30 Jan

Chapter 12: The Birth of Rivka

12.1 The Birth of Rivka

As a result of the connection between Abraham’s hesed and Isaac’s gevura that was established during the Akeda, Jacob’s tiferet can be born, and therefore, Abraham is told about the birth of Rivka immediately after the Akeda.

12.2 Nahor’s Family

All the marriages of the forefathers related to us in the Book of Genesis occur within the Terah clan called Ivrim, which has two main branches—that of Avraham and that of Nahor. Nahor’s wife Milcah was Haran’s daughter and Sarah’s sister (Genesis 11:29) which means that both Abraham and Nahor were married to their nieces who descended from Terah’s other wife.

The relationship of the various branches in Terah’s clan can be presented, according to the Midrash: as following: After the events in Ur Kasdim (The Chaldean furnace) when it became clear that the Ivrim were being persecuted in Babylon (Abraham was thrown into a fiery furnace and Haran died), the question arose what Terah’s family should do in this situation.

Terah, the seller of idols, was not an active supporter of Eber’s religious system, but he did strive to return to Canaan (Genesis 11:31), to the Land of the Jews (Genesis 40:15), seemingly for nationalist reasons (in some sense he can be considered a prototype of secular Zionism). However he made it only to Haran where he remained.

His sons Abraham and Nahor who survived the catastrophe in Ur Kasdim differ as to what direction their family should take. Nahor (in some sense he can be considered to be the founder of cosmopolitan Judaism) decides to integrate into the then dominant Aramean culture. However, he does not succeed in remaining an Ivri: his family assimilates very quickly and his children are called Arameans: “Bethuel the Aramean, of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean” (Genesis 25:20).

Nahor, a cosmopolitan universalist, thought it right to influence the nations of the world from the inside. (It is interesting that this point of view, a religious approach towards exile, galut leshma, still exists among the Jewish people. For example, Rav Hirsch who lived in the middle of the 19th century in Germany, claimed that the role of the Jewish people is to live among the other nations and their enlightened countries, for example in Germany, and influence them from within.)

Conversely, Abraham is the representative of a universal-nationalistic concept. He goes to the Land of Israel not because he wants to return to nature and the earth (as was the case with Terah), but to attain the rectification of the entire world when “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). In our days, this is the approach of Religious Zionism. However, it would be wrong to stop at the nationalistic stance, even if it has a universal direction. Therefore, the men from Abraham’s family (Isaac and Jacob) marry the daughters from Nahor’s family (Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah) so that the line of universality would also be represented in the Jewish nationalistic worldview.

12.3 Twelve Sons and a Daughter

When reading the Torah we often do not pay much attention to genealogical lists—for example, the enumeration of Nahor’s children in this chapter. However, besides their factual significance, these enumerations have one more critical aspect. The genealogy of characters described in the Torah usually has a main branch that has few children, and a side branch that, on the contrary, has many children. This corresponds to the view that the chief, i.e. noble members, of a family must have few heirs while the subordinate common folk must be numerous. Indeed, in the Torah we see in several place that the younger, secondary son from the sideline, has twelve sons and a daughter (or twelve overt sons and one covert son), meaning “twelve-and-a-half successors” are continuing him. The reason is that the main line is a heliacal line while the side line is lunar. Therefore, the side line must have “twelve and a half” children to correspond with the correlation of heliacal and lunar cycles (in the heliacal year there are approximately 12.5 lunar months).

For instance, Ham, the son of Noah, has a main line—Cush whose son was Nimrod and a secondary line—Canaan who has 12 children (Genesis 10:8, 15). The Torah enumerates 11 sons and additional “Canaanite tribes” i.e. it is also a separate nation. Eber also has two sons: the older, Peleg, whose descendent is Terah and Abraham’s race, and the additional line of Yoktan who has 12.5 sons (Genesis 10:26). In Terah’s family Abraham is the main line and he has two chief sons (Keturah is a side line) while Nahor has 12 sons and a daughter (Rivka is Bethuel’s daughter and it is not by chance that she is mentioned here). Later, Abraham has the main line through Isaac while Ishmael has 12 sons and a daughter (Genesis 25:13; 28:9).

The most significant example of this pattern occurs with Jacob. He also has 12.5 sons which implies that originally Jacob was supposed to have been a side line and Esau the chief line. But Jacob was able to ascend and attain the level of a founder of the Chosen People by transforming a side line into the main line. For a line to become the main line it is insufficient for its leader to be born first. Jacob’s greatness was that he could transform himself from a younger brother to the older, the secondary into the primary.

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