Skip to content

From Yitzchak to Yitzchak: Reflections on the Rabin Assassination

November 18, 2015

This morning after the shiva minyan at the Floams some of the professors from our shul were having a conversation that sounded very familiar from my days working as the rabbi at Brandeis. They were talking about how young the freshmen are. Someone made the comment that they are so young they don’t have any memories of September 11.   It got me to thinking about what historical moments do I remember. What is the earliest memory of a world event that I have where I knew things would be totally different? And I realized that Yitzchak Rabin was involved in the two earliest events that I can remember. The first was the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn. I knew that this had to be a big deal because my school let us out of class to watch the ceremony on TV. That in itself is a big deal. The second event, of course is the assassination of Rabin. I remember vividly feeling that I was living through a historic moment and that things would not be the same. This week, as many of you are aware marks the 20th anniversary of the Rabin assassination. I will come back to that at the end, but first I want to focus on a different Yitzchak, the Yitzchak of our parsha.

Our Parsha contains in it one of the most romantic scenes in all of Tanach. The moment when Yitzchak and Rivka meet for the first time. The scene is set perfectly. The sun is setting. Isaac goes out to the field to see if perhaps Eliezer the servant has succeeded in finding a wife for Yitzchak. Yitchak davens – our Rabbis tell us that the prayer he offered is the source for the תפילת מנחה, the daily afternoon prayer. And then his prayers are answered:

Genesis 24:63:

וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּ֥ה גְמַלִּ֖ים בָּאִֽים׃

and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming.

And then we are told of Rivka’s reaction to seeing Yizchak, her future husband for the first time:

Genesis 24:64:

וַתִּשָּׂ֤א רִבְקָה֙ אֶת־עֵינֶ֔יהָ וַתֵּ֖רֶא אֶת־יִצְחָ֑ק וַתִּפֹּ֖ל מֵעַ֥ל הַגָּמָֽל׃

And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she fell from the camel.

I always understood that she was overcome with emotion and she lost control. Upon learning that this mysterious stranger is indeed Yitzchak, Rivka covers herself with a scarf as a sign of modesty and intimacy. Interestingly, this is the original source of the custom for brides to veil themselves. To emulate Rivka imeinu.

The Torah gives an interesting introduction and pre-story to this romantic encounter. We read just one pasuk earlier:

Genesis 24:62:

וְיִצְחָק֙ בָּ֣א מִבּ֔וֹא בְּאֵ֥ר לַחַ֖י רֹאִ֑י וְה֥וּא יוֹשֵׁ֖ב בְּאֶ֥רֶץ הַנֶּֽגֶב׃

And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi; for he dwelt in the land of the South.

Immediately before going out to the field to pray and wait for his new bride to begin a new chapter in his life , Yitzchak had gone to a place called באר לחי ראי. This becomes even more significant when we consider that this is the first time we see Yitzchak since the עקדה (akeida) at the end of last week’s parsha.

The Torah tells us that just prior to reemerging on the scene Yitzckah was in Be’er la-Chai Ro’ee. What is the significance of this particular place?

And to add to the mystery, we have the comment of Rashi:

Rashi on Genesis 24:62:1:

מבוא באר לחי ראי. שהלך להביא הגר לאברהם אביו שישאנה:

He went to bring Hagar to Abraham his father so he could [re]marry her.

Note the irony – Yitzchak is about to get married himself, but the servant was sent to find a wife for him. If Yitzchak is indeed capable and interested in wife-finding, why does he not go himself? At the same time, it seems strange that as Yitzchak is about to marry and start his own family that his focus is on finding a wife for his elderly father.

This is not the first time we read of the place Be’er la-Chai Ro’ee in the Torah. It was named by Hagar after the first time she had been expelled from the home of Avraham and Sarah.

An angel finds Hagar and informs that she will soon give birth to a son who will be called Yishmael. The angel instructs Hagar to return to Avraham and Sarah and assures her that all will be okay. This encounter ends with Hagar declaring:

Genesis 16:13-14:

וַתִּקְרָ֤א שֵׁם־יְהוָה֙ הַדֹּבֵ֣ר אֵלֶ֔יהָ אַתָּ֖ה אֵ֣ל רֳאִ֑י כִּ֣י אָֽמְרָ֗ה הֲגַ֥ם הֲלֹ֛ם רָאִ֖יתִי אַחֲרֵ֥י רֹאִֽי׃ עַל־כֵּן֙ קָרָ֣א לַבְּאֵ֔ר בְּאֵ֥ר לַחַ֖י רֹאִ֑י הִנֵּ֥ה בֵין־קָדֵ֖שׁ וּבֵ֥ין בָּֽרֶד׃

And she called the name of the LORD that spoke unto her, Thou art a God of seeing; for she said: ‘Have I even here seen Him that seeth Me?’ Wherefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

אתה אל ראי – אמר ר’ אייבו אתה הרואה בעלבון העלובים

R. Aibo said: You are the God who sees (and identifies) with the humiliation of those who have been humiliated.

Hagar was treated improperly by Sarah (and Avraham) and she is upset and humiliated by her experience. Be’er la-Chai Ro’ee comes to symbolize her pain and the comfort she feels when she realizes that God recognizes her pain and has compassion for her.

I would suggest that perhaps Yitzchak had similar feelings of humiliation and rejection after the Akedah. He identifies with Hagar’s plight and feelings and so he goes to the place where Hagar was able to find comfort and affirm her faith in God. More importantly, having gone through similar experiences Yitzchak feels responsible to help Avraham reconcile with Hagar. This is why he wants to bring her back to Avraham. Perhaps this mission is so important to Yitzchak that he literally cannot go on with his life until he helps to repair the relationship between Avraham and Hagar.

In fact, later in the parsha we read of Avrham’s death.

Genesis 25:8:

וַיִּגְוַ֨ע וַיָּ֧מָת אַבְרָהָ֛ם בְּשֵׂיבָ֥ה טוֹבָ֖ה זָקֵ֣ן וְשָׂבֵ֑עַ וַיֵּאָ֖סֶף אֶל־עַמָּֽיו׃

And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.

This is not a typical description of someone in the Torah. A friend of mine suggested once that perhaps the reason Avraham was שבע satisfied, at the time of his death was that he was able to reconcile with Hagar and make amends for the wrong that he had done to her.

And this brings us back to Rabin. One of the themes that I have seen in the many reflections on the 20th anniversary was summarized nicely by David Horovitz, Foundng Editor of The Times of Israel in an article he wrote titled “If Yitzchak Rabin Had Lived” (

“Cursed by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Israel has never recovered. This is a wonderful country full of motivated, innovative, hard-working people, insistently thriving against lousy odds in a spectacularly dangerous part of the world, with radically inadequate support from a hypocritical international community.
But its post-Rabin leadership has too often been defensive, paralyzed and bleak.
Its more extreme spiritual leaders still presume to know the will of God.
And its radical fringe stops at nothing.”

The Jewish people and the state of Israel still traumatized in many ways by the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin needs to turn to the original Yitzchak, Yitchak avinu who presents a model of dealing with his own trauma head on and bringing about reconciliation. As our hearts turn to Israel and the threats that its citizens face on a daily basis we know that in times of crisis we are capable of coming together with a common purpose and common destiny. But please God, the external threat from our enemies will end soon. Let us hope that we do not reach the point where the internal threat from our own splintered people becomes far worse.




From → Israel, Parsha

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: