Yitzchak brought [Rivka] into mother Sarah's tent and he married Rivka. She became his wife, and he loved her. Yitzchak was consoled for the loss of his mother” (Breisheet 25:67). Rivka, by carrying on in the path set by Sarah, brings comfort not only to Yitzchak but to Avraham as well. Sarah may have physically died but her way of life would continue through her children and future descendants.
The above-quoted verse is the 67th and last of the story detailing how it came to be that Rivka and Yitzchak would wed. “More beloved is the table-talk of the servants of our patriarchs and matriarchs than the Torah of their children” (Rashi, Breisheet, 24:22). Choosing the right marriage partner for Yitzchak takes 67 verses whereas the laws of Shabbat are “like a mountain being held up by a hair” (Chagigah 10a) with a few sparse words that are the basis of thousands upon thousands of laws.
The opening verse of the “first Jewish wedding” story does, however, seem a little out of place. The Torah tells us that “Avraham was old, well advanced in years and G-d had blessed Abraham with everything” (Breisheet 24:1). Sarah has just been buried so it seems rather inappropriate at this point to say that Avraham was blessed with everything.
Perhaps we can understand this in light of the Talmudic passage that demands that just as we must bless G-d on good tidings so too we must bless G-d when bad things befall us, a concept that is reflected in the blessing of G-d as the righteous judge when a close relative dies. Avraham, despite the fact that he had just “come to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her” (Breisheet 23:2) still had much for which he was thankful. Even, perhaps especially, those events that were distressful led him to realize that ultimately they too reflected the will of G-d. Despite the great difficulty in doing so, he had the wonderful ability to see life as a constant blessing.
When we think of the life experiences of each of the patriarchs it is Yaakov whom we often view as having had the most difficult of lives. His problems both with his brother and children literally drove him to an early grave – he lived to 147 whereas his father and grandfather lived to 180 and 175 respectively.
However, if we carefully examine the life of Avraham we will see that it was one fraught with much difficulty and many challenges. As a child he challenged the religious ways of his surroundings, becoming an outcast who, according to the Midrash, was harassed constantly for his radical views. His family fled to Charan where his younger brother died. He was then called to leave his homeland and family and journey to an unknown land. Upon arriving he is greeted by famine and while seeking food in Egypt his wife is kidnapped and nearly raped. Returning to Israel he squabbles with his adopted nephew Lot – how painful that must have been. Yet when Lot is taken captive he risks his life to redeem him from captivity.
Throughout his ordeals he has no progeny and when he finally has a son – from his wife’s concubine – he is told that “he will be a rebel. His hand will be against everyone” (Breisheet 16:12). At the urging of his wife he sends Yishmael away from home. When after many years Avraham and Sarah do have a child, Avraham is told to sacrifice him, an event which the Midrash claims caused the death of Sarah.
Yet somehow Avraham is the paradigm of chesed throughout and always seems to expend his energies on tikkun olam, improving the world. Whether it is his “proclaiming the name of G-d”, fighting – both literally and figuratively – for justice for all or pleading with G-d to have mercy on the wicked, his constant practice of hachnasat orchim, or touring the land of Israel, Avraham soldiered on, focusing on the task at hand. There was just too much to do, too much to contribute, too many people to help, to feel sorry for himself. Avraham understood that life’s challenges offer opportunities for growth, to become better, stronger, more caring and compassionate.
“Avraham breathed his last and died at a good age, old and satisfied” (Breisheet 25:8). Avraham may have had a difficult life. Those difficulties spurred him to even greater heights allowing him to rest in peace, not despite his troubles but because of them.