Friday, December 01, 2006

parshat Vayeitzei: How old was Rachel?

Two weeks ago, in honor of parshat Chayyei Sarah, the blogosphere held its second annual silly tumult over the question of how old Rivkah was when Yitzchak betrothed and subsequently married her. A related interesting issue is how old Rachel and Leah were when they married Yaakov. And there is a nice midrash in that regard -- I think I saw it in Bereishit Rabbati, by Rav Moshe haDarshan.

This midrash asks why Yaakov waited 14 years learning in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever.

To digress briefly, the basic problem that sparked that midrash that he learned in the Yeshiva of Shem and Even for 14 years is chronological. Various pesukim give hard dates for various events, though they are subject to interpretation. Working within these constraints, we fit the various events. And based on these hard constraints, there seems to be a gap of 14 years. This idea of learning in yeshiva 14 years is fleshed out in various midrashim. For example, the pasuk says vayikatz Yaakov mishenato, and it is interpreted as mimishnato, that he did not sleep all those 14 years. And so on.

So this midrash asks why Yaakov chose to wait. After all, his father told him {Bereishit 28}

א וַיִּקְרָא יִצְחָק אֶל-יַעֲקֹב, וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ; וַיְצַוֵּהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, לֹא-תִקַּח אִשָּׁה מִבְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן. 1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him: 'Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.
ב קוּם לֵךְ פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם, בֵּיתָה בְתוּאֵל אֲבִי אִמֶּךָ; וְקַח-לְךָ מִשָּׁם אִשָּׁה, מִבְּנוֹת לָבָן אֲחִי אִמֶּךָ. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother.
ג וְאֵל שַׁדַּי יְבָרֵךְ אֹתְךָ, וְיַפְרְךָ וְיַרְבֶּךָ; וְהָיִיתָ, לִקְהַל עַמִּים. 3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a congregation of peoples;
Shouldn't he be zariz. This midrash answers that his father told him וְקַח-לְךָ מִשָּׁם אִשָּׁה, מִבְּנוֹת לָבָן אֲחִי אִמֶּךָ. Yaakov set out to do so but then heard that Lavan did not have any daughters. So, trusting in Hashem, he stayed in the yeshiva of Shem and Even for 14 years, time enough for Lavan's wife to get pregnant and give birth to Rachel and Leah, and for them to grow old enough to marry. (Then, of course, it was several years before he was able to marry them...)

There are many influences on this midrash. First, the 14 year issue, with the desire to give Yaakov's motivation for waiting. But also there is the comparison and contrast we can make with Rivkah. Rivkah, according to one midrashic/pashtanic accounting made popular by Rashi, was 3 years old. This is in large part based on the fact that we are told that Avraham was told of her birth right after the akeida. We thus assume that it was after the akeida that Avraham was told, plus also that she had just been born. Based on other calculations, Yitzchak was 37 at the Akeida, and we know he was 40 when Rivkah came back. So she must have been 3, based on this calculation. But part of the theme of this midrash is that right after the akeida, where Avraham is promised continuity through Yitzchak, he is told that Rivkah was born. Thus the impression that Rivkah and Yitzchak were made for each other, and thus it is only now that Rivkah is born, made just for him.

By saying that Rachel and Leah are to be born now that Yaakov must marry is to say, similarly, that there is this idea of them being created just for him, for it is a match made in heaven. This theme of match made in heaven was stressed by Rivkah, by having Rivkah come out to the well just when Eliezer declared his test, and then having her family declare that this is the will of God. And the parallels exist in the case of Rachel, for when Yaakov arrives, he asks for her family, and suddenly Rachel comes to water the sheep.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't recall the source, but I do remember reading somewhere that Rachel was 5 when Yaakov first laid eyes on her. That explains his choice to work 7 years for her -- a period of time to bring her up to child-bearing age. So his kiss would be a cousinly one to a child at that first meeting -- not a sign that he had fallen in love.
Of course, that makes her far, far younger than Yaakov who was a senior citizen by our standards by the time he married her. But that would not have been an obstacle. Rashi quotes a midrash that Yaakov feared his brother would want to take Dina as a wife, and the age difference between them would have been a couple of decades greater.


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