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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT HAYE SARAH
November 22, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 23:1-25:18 - Hertz, p. 80; Etz Hayim, p. 127
Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 24:53-25:18 - Hertz, p. 86; Etz Hayim, p. 137
Haftarah: I Kings 1:1-31 - Hertz, p. 90; Etz Hayim, p. 142

Discussion Theme: The enduring symbol of the veil

They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man? And she said, “I will.” So they sent off their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “O sister! May you grow into thousands of myriads; may your offspring seize the gates of their foes… Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi… and Isaac went out walking in the field toward evening and, looking up, he saw camels approaching. Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Isaac. She alighted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” And the servant said, “That is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself.” (Genesis 24:58-60, 62-65)

Commentary

  1. She receives the same kind of blessing that God bestowed on Abraham after the Akedah. Israelite women normally were not veiled. In the ancient Near East, the veiling of the bride was part of the marriage ceremony, but wives generally went about unveiled. By veiling herself now, as a sign of modesty, Rebekah signals Isaac that she is his bride. (Nachum Sarna, JPS Commentary to Genesis 24:60 and 65)
  2. In many circles the custom is that the rabbi or the parents veil the bride. (Turey Zahav 65:2, Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 147:3)
  3. After the veiling, it is customary to bless the bride with the blessing that was first given to Rebekah. This blessing, given to the first Jewish bride, is repeated for all her descendants. (Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 147:3)
  4. Some say that veiling the bride at the wedding is a sign of modesty. The bride is the center of attention at the ceremony; she covers her face so that no one other than her husband will gaze at her beauty. On this day, her beauty is for her husband alone. Some say that another reason the groom covers the bride’s face is to indicate that he is not primarily interested in her physical beauty. Beauty is something that will fade with time, but if the groom is also attracted to the girl’s spiritual qualities, he is attached to something that she will never lose… Moreover, Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah marked the beginning of the Jewish people. The bride emulates Rebekah in the hope that she will be equally worthy in her marriage. (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Made in Heaven)
  5. The veiling ceremony is held only for a bride’s first marriage. When the two islands of activity for bride and groom are bridged by the procession from the groom’s table to the bride’s throne, the merging signals the beginning of the wedding celebration…. The groom places the veil over the bride’s face and recites the blessing given to Rebekah by her mother and brother before she left for her marriage to Isaac… The veil is a symbol of the married woman. It expresses dignity, which Isaiah 3:18 calls “tiferet,” and which was reserved for women of station. Ezekiel 16:20 speaks of “covering with silk” the woman he loves. Interestingly, Rebekah does not wear a veil while on the journey in the company of the servant, Eliezer, but instinctively dons it when sighting Isaac. This may account for the insistence of major authorities that the groom himself veil the bride, and that it should never be done without him — it is only his presence that makes her veil significant… The veil also conveys psychological significance. Netziv notes that the instinctive action of veiling at the sight of Isaac symbolized Rebekah’s married life with him. There was none of the open husband-wife communication so characteristic of Abraham with Sarah or Jacob with Rachel. Her veil symbolized that she was a private person, vigorously self-confident and not easily compromised. It was God’s way of assuring that the patriarchal blessing would go to Jacob, despite Isaac’s intent to confer it upon Esau. If she were less individualistic and self-assured, she might have been swayed by her husband. Although anthropologists conjecture that veiling indicates being possessed by someone else, here it implies self-possession. Her veil was the symbol of her capacity to be both a wife, sharing life goals and hopes with her husband, and a private person. (Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage)
  6. When the borders of the world fall, when the walls of morality fall, everything falls. To have no borders at all is to live with insecurity… The loss of borders even threatens to destroy families. Family life used to be a very strong border. A person’s family was like a little world unto itself. There was a border that set the family territory apart from the non-family, what was private from what was public. Family was family; home was home… We’re left with no borders for ourselves as individuals, no definitions, no sense of selfhood. If we allow people to take advantage of us, if we allow people to hurt us, if we allow people to walk all over us, it’s because we have no borders… When we have borders, we express our feelings only when it’s appropriate and do not express them when it isn’t. We do not impose ourselves on others… If we know what we may do and what we may not do, then we have borders. Then we have a clear idea of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate; what is allowed and what is not allowed; whatis right and what is wrong. Morality is the border that makes us who we are. It is theframework that gives us a sense of self, a sense of separateness, and a sense of stability. (Manis Friedman, Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?)
  7. When the borders of the world fall, when the walls of morality fall, everything falls. To have no borders at all is to live with insecurity…. The loss of borders even threatens to destroy families. Family life used to be a very strong border. A person’s family was like a little world unto itself. There was a border that set the family territory apart from the non-family, what was private from what was public. Family was family; home was home… We’re left with no borders for ourselves as individuals, no definitions, no sense of selfhood. If we allow people to take advantage of us, if we allow people to hurt us, if we allow people to walk all over us, it’s because we have no borders… When we have borders, we express our feelings only when it’s appropriate and do not express them when it isn’t. We do not impose ourselves on others… If we know what we may do and what we may not do, then we have borders. Then we have a clear idea of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate; what is allowed and what is not allowed; what is right and what is wrong. Morality is the border that makes us who we are. It is the framework that gives us a sense of self, a sense of separateness, and a sense of stability. (Manis Friedman, Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?)
  8. We all have the power to redeem and save at least one life by choosing him or her and making that person feel wanted and special throughout life. This is the beauty of marriage and why it is so central to human life… Irrespective of whatever sacrifices marriage entails — and it involves many — marriage and the family are man and woman’s greatest source of happiness. No one who marries will ever find someone perfect. In this respect, marriage is a statement of deep-seated love for humanity, whereby we love companionship more than we love perfection. (Shmuley Boteach, Kosher Sex)

Discussion

What values underlie the “bedeken” (veiling) ceremony that are relevant for today’s marriages? Using a “midrashic” (interpretive) eye, what is the enduring symbolism of the veil that Rebekah placed over her face? What can we learn about the symbolism of the veil that can be applied to all relationships?


 
 
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