Torah from around the world #190

Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber, Interim Director of Education,

Congregation B’nai

, Armonk, NY

Rebekah: A Model for Positive Self-Esteem

is on a mission. A mission for Abraham and a mission for God. If he succeeds,
Abraham will be reassured that the


which God had made with him will
be fulfilled. If Eliezer succeeds, Isaac will become a husband and eventually a
parent. Eliezer’s success is dependent upon God and Rebekah.

plays her part. She meets Eliezer at the well and offers him water and also
water for the camels. Rebekah acts exactly as Eliezer had prayed and she has
the right


, the right family connections. Rebekah is the daughter
of Bethuel son of Nahor and Milcah, a member of Abraham’s family.

the moment we meet Rebekah, she is an active participant in the story. She
draws the water, takes care of Eliezer and the camels and invites Eliezer home
to meet Abraham’s family. After Eliezer explained the purpose of his journey
and asked to be taken to his master’s brother’s house, the Torah tells us “The
girl then ran and related these things to her mother’s household” (Genesis
24:28). With this verse, the text indicates that Rebekah’s actions are her own.

negotiates with Bethuel and Laban and they agree to the marriage saying: “This
matter has emanated from Adonai, we cannot answer you one way or another. Look
– Rebekah is before you; take [her] and go, let her be your master’s son’s wife
as Adonai has decreed” (Genesis 24:50-51). They agree not because they are
committed to the arrangement but because it has been decreed by God.

the negotiations seem to go smoothly, there is a snag the next morning when
Rebekah’s mother and brother request that she remain with them for another few
days. Eliezer is impatient to be on his way now that God has guaranteed the
success of his mission. The text relates what happens next:

They answered, “Let us call the girl and see what she has to say.”

So they called Rebekah and asked her,

“Will you go with this man?”

And she said, “I will go.” (Genesis 24:57-58)

understanding of Rebekah develops throughout this chapter of Genesis. Rebekah
demonstrates the values which Eliezer is searching for on behalf of Abraham and
Isaac. She is caring for humans and animals, welcoming to strangers and
committed to her family. Rebekah is a young woman who knows what she wants and
is willing to take risks.

appears to also be outspoken and articulate. From the moment we meet her at the
well, she states her intentions and follows through with her actions. When her
family asks her if she is willing to leave with Eliezer, is she being given the
opportunity to negate the marriage negotiation or to confirm the timing of the
departure? Whatever the purpose of the question, it was a unique moment to give
a woman the opportunity to determine her own destiny. According to Midrash
Hagadol on verse 58 (cited in

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary

, page
128), “It was customary in the world that when a man wed his daughter to
someone… she would be too embarrassed to say anything [either in affirmation or
rejection].” Yet Rebekah is not embarrassed or shy. She is willing and ready to
leave the world she knows in order to become Isaac’s wife.

is possible to view Rebekah as a role model for strong self-esteem. She acts
according to her values and does not seem to be impacted by the expectations of
the world around her, which might have led her to remain close to home.

there has been much written about issues of self-esteem and body image for
young girls. In the New York area, this has surfaced in connection with Fashion
Week and the perception that very thin models are the norm. The images of young
models encourage teens to strive to fit the thin mold, potentially leading to
eating disorders and depression. These images do not focus on personality
traits or academic success; rather they set these girls up for failure.

challenge is to find other models of success for our teens. In New York City,
there is a new advertising campaign focusing attention on positive self-esteem.
The campaign is directed at girls from about 7 to 12 years old who are at risk
of negative self-esteem which could lead to destructive behaviors. Christopher
Ochner, a researcher of obesity, eating disorders and nutrition at Mount Sinai
Adolescent Health Center in Manhattan, said the ads could be effective because
they offered a more realistic picture than “the media’s portrayal of ideal
beauty, which is still stick-thin, crazy-thin” standard. “Average girls,” he
added, “look at fashion models and say, ‘If I’m not like that, than nobody’s
going to need me or love me.’” (

New York Times

, September 30, 2013) The
ads show girls of different races and sizes participating in a wide range of
activities. Each concludes with the phrase “I’m a girl. I’m beautiful the way I

can take the image of Rebekah as developed in Genesis chapter 24 and turn that
image into an ad for positive self-esteem for our Jewish teens. Rebekah can be
a model for living by Jewish values, believing in herself and taking risks with
the power to change. In this way, may we enable every person to say:

am beautiful/complete/successful the way I am.

Joan Glazer Farber, Interim Director of Education, Congregation B’nai Yisrael,
Armonk, NY. She can be contacted at


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