Of the four matriarchs, it is Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, for whom the Torah provides the most background information. Notably, she is the only matriarch whose birth is recorded: “And Bethuel (the son of Abraham’s brother Nachor) begot Rebecca” (Genesis 22:23).

Rebecca’s father may have had the distinction of being Abraham’s nephew, but the Torah and Midrash expose him as a greedy man willing to kill (according to the Midrash, he tried to poison Abraham’s servant Eliezer when Eliezer came to his house to propose the match with Isaac). Rebecca’s mother and brother (Laban) were not much better.

Despite growing up in such a tainted household, Rebecca drew Eliezer’s attention because of her natural instinct to help others. When she saw Eliezer at the village well, she did not hesitate to offer water to him and his camels. It is understood by the commentaries that Rebecca clearly understood the difference between her parents’ home and the home of her future husband, for she was eager to leave with Eliezer and go to Canaan, even when her family suggested that she wait a year.

When they were not blessed with children, both Isaac and Rebecca prayed, as it says: “Isaac entreated God opposite his wife because she was barren” (25:21). Shortly thereafter, Rebecca struggled through a difficult pregnancy with the twins, Esau and Jacob.

While Isaac is renowned for having favored Esau, Rebecca’s background allowed her to understand her children more clearly and to recognize that Esau was deceiving his father. For this reason, Rebecca encouraged Jacob to do what was necessary to make certain that he received Isaac’s blessing and then helped Jacob flee his brother’s wrath.

Little is recorded about the rest of Rebecca’s life other than that she insisted that Esau’s idol worshipping wives be banished from her household. The Midrash infers that by the time Rebecca passed away, she could find no good in Esau. She ordered that her burial, at the Cave of Machpela in Hebron,  be held discretely at night so that Esau would not attend and people would not comment on his wickedness. Her death is thus encoded in the verse “Deborah, the wet-nurse of Rebecca, died” (35:8).

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