The Imahot & God
We hear a lot about Avraham’s acknowledgment of God and the tests through which he grows in his relationship with Him. We hear about Yitzchak being offered to God and speculate about how that might have affected him. We watch Yaakov experience prophetic instructions and promises. But what about their wives? Were our foremothers simply swept along for the ride, introduced to God through the prisms of their husbands’ prophecies and destinies, or did they have independent relationships with Him that shaped their own destinies? Join Mrs. Sarah Rudolph and explore the stories of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah, through close reading of the Torah enhanced by insights of commentators and midrashim, to discover how and when each of our matriarchs came to engage with G-d in her own right and in her own way.
The Imahot & God: Sarah Part 2: Separate from her husband
Last week, we suggested that Sarai bought into her husband’s mission, fully willing to accompany him in fulfilling God’s command to “go for yourself, from… to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). A closer look at Genesis 12:5, along with Rashi’s comment from Genesis Rabbah 39:14, suggests she may have stood alongside him in faith even before that command.
To get to know Sarah more deeply as an individual, however, we will have to separate her from that partnership, mining for clues (1) before their marriage, (2) when she is separated from her husband, and (3) when she confronts her husband, speaking face-to-face rather than alongside each other.
Texts of focus include:
- Genesis 11:29
- Sanhedrin 69b
- Rashi, Gur Aryeh, and HaEmek Davar on Genesis 11:29
- Genesis 12:17
- Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Genesis 12:17
- Genesis Rabbah 41:2
- Genesis 16:1-2
The Imahot & God: Part 3: The Disparate Parts that Make the Whole
We’ve encountered Sarai – and watched her encounter God – on her own before marriage and when separated from her husband. Next, we’ll explore Sarai’s uniqe qualities and divine connection as she stands facing her husband in Genesis chapters 16 and 21 – highlighting her faith in God (especially sharp in Genesis Rabbah 45:2) as well as the differences that lead Sarah and Avraham (as they are named in Genesis 17) to form a complementary unit representing God in this world.
And in the next generation… The midrash Genesis Rabbah 60:16 famously implies Rivka was an identical replacement for Sarah – but was she?
We will begin to explore the character of Rivka as presented in Genesis chapter 24, with help from a surprising assortment of sources, including: Malbim (Genesis 24:15), Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu Rabbah (chapter 25), the HaEmek Davar (end of chapter 24), the Meshech Chochmah (Genesis 24:14), and even a cameo from Ruth (1:16).
The Imahot & God: Rivka Goes
Rivka had what it took to join God’s budding nation right in the very beginning, to form half of the second generation… but what was it that she had? What made her the right choice, and what brought her to her choice? Did she really have a spiritual connection identical to Sarah’s (as implied by Genesis Rabbah 60:16)? Maybe – but we might find multiple indications that she didn’t actually quite measure up (such as the Netziv at the end of Genesis 24, Rashi’s comments on 25:21, and Genesis Rabbah 65:4). How, then, might we relate to Rivka’s personal quest “to seek God” (Genesis 25:22)?
The Imahot & God: Introduction to Rachel and Leah
Like Rivka, Rachel is first introduced at a well (Genesis 29). Like Rivka, she is selected as an ideal partner and foundational player in building God’s nation despite the lack of obvious signs of spiritual depth. But she has a sister…
Though the text provides little explicit information about the internal characters of either Rachel or Leah, midrashic tradition extracts hints and offers further information – including, but not limited to, how they did or did not connect with God in those early years. We will explore some of those midrashic texts (Genesis Rabbah 70:16, Bava Batra 123a, and Genesis Rabbah 71:5) to discover what might lie beneath their external appearances as described in the Torah. Utilizing insights from Malbim’s comment on Genesis 1:1, we will then begin to take a closer look at Genesis chapters 29-30 and discover what more their childbearing years might reveal about these women and their developing relationships with God.
The Imahot & God: Rachel and Leah: A (different) sisterly switcheroo?
Last week, we explored some of the defining qualities that characterize Rachel and Leah, respectively. But having one or two overriding character traits does not preclude the possibility of change or growth. As we examine Genesis chapter 30, with guidance from a comment by Malbim (Genesis 1:1) regarding various aspects of God’s relationship with His creations, we will see each sister incoporate more complexity and depth in how she speaks of Him – moving closer to each other in a way that is perhaps precipitated by their heated exchange over the dudaim that Reuven brought his mother and Rachel desperately wanted.
Other commentaries and midrashic texts of particular interest to our study include: Rashi Genesis 29:34, Berachot 7b, Genesis Rabbah 71:6, Seforno on Genesis 30:17, 20, Berachot 60a (as compared to Genesis Rabbah 72:6) – and of course, further insights from Malbim on Genesis 30.
Sarah Rudolph is a freelance Jewish educator, writer, and editor. She has been sharing her passion for Jewish texts of all kinds for over 15 years, with students of all ages. Sarah’s essays have been published in a variety of internet and print media, including Times of Israel, Kveller, Jewish Action, OU Life, The Lehrhaus, TorahMusings, and more. She is Editor-At-Large, Deracheha: womenandmitzvot.org. Sarah lives in Cleveland with her husband and four children, but is privileged to learn online with students all over the world.