By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
November 28, 2003
With the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah, another link is
forged in the chain that creates the people of Israel. Like Avraham and Sarah
before them, they have difficulty conceiving:
And Yitzchak was forty years old when he took Rivkah, daughter of Betuel the
Aramean of Paddan-Aram, sister of Lavan the Aramean, to himself as a wife. And
Yitzchak entreated Hashem on behalf of his wife, because she was barren, and
Hashem was moved, so his wife Rivkah conceived (Bereishit 25:20-21).
Radak says that Yitzchak prayed intensely so that he would not
have to take a second wife as his father did.
And Hashem grants his prayer. Yitzchak and Rivkah are blessed with twins, Esav
. . . . and Yitzchak was sixty years old when they were born (verse 26).
However, although the Torah clearly states how old Yitzchak was, it does not
mention Rivkah’s age, neither here nor at any other milestone in her life.
How old was Rivkah?
We turn to the Oral Torah for answers. Most students of the Torah are familiar
with Rashi’s calculation, based on midrashic sources, that Rivkah was three
years old when she married Yitzchak. What is not as widely known is that there
is another opinion found in the midrashim, and followed by some other
commentaries that Rivkah was fourteen years old.
In examining these two views, we should not be influenced by contemporary
conditions or attitudes, but by the evidence in the text of the Torah, and in
Here, then, are the facts: Avraham left Charan for the land of Canaan at the
age of 75 (Bereishit 12:4) and he was 100 years of age at the time of
Yitzchak’s birth (21:5). The account of the Akeidah (22:1-19) is followed by
the report of Rivkah’s birth (verse 23), and then by Sarah’s death at age127
(23:1). Since Sarah was ten years younger than Avraham (17:17), this means
that at the time of Sarah’s death, Avraham was 137 and Yitzchak was 37. As
mentioned earlier, Yitzchak was married at 40 and became a father at 60.
Please note that there are certain traditions in the Oral Torah to which all
midrashic authorities agree. The first concerns Avraham’s residences in
Canaan. After traversing the land and descending to Egypt for a brief period,
Avraham settles in Chevron (13:18) while still in his seventy-fifth year
(Seder Olam, ch.1). He remains there until the cities of the plain are
destroyed, when he is nearly 100, relocating in the south, the land of the
Pelishtim (Bereishit 20:1). Thus, he lived in Chevron for 25 years. When, just
before the Akeidah, the Torah says that Avraham resided
in the land of the Pelishtim for many years (21:34),
this means that he was there for a longer period than he had been in Chevron,
namely, 26 years (Bereishit Rabbah 54:9). At the end of this time, Avraham is
126, Sarah is 116 and Yitzchak is 26.
The second point to which all midrashim agree is that the birth of Rivkah
coincided with the Akeidah (Seder Olam, l.c.).
But, when was the Akeidah?
Bereishit Rabbah 56:11 has two versions regarding the age of Yitzchak at the
time of the Akeidah. One version, which is adopted by Rashi, says he was 37.
It is based on the opinion that Rivkah’s birth coincided with Sarah’s death,
“before Hashem allows the sun of one righteous individual to set, He causes
the sun of the next righteous individual to rise” (Bereishit Rabbah 58:2).
At the time of the Akeidah, therefore, Yitzchak would have been 37.
Consequently, Rivkah at the time of her marriage to the 40 year-old Yitzchak
was three years old.
This chronology helps to solve a problem. Based on Bereishit 16:3, and as
explained in Yevamot 64a, a man who has not had a child with his wife for 10
years — as in the case of Avraham — may take a second wife. Yet, twenty years
passed before Yitzchak implored Hashem to grant him and Rivkah children!
However, if Rivkah was only 3 at the time of her marriage, the ten years until
she was capable of bearing a child should not have been included.
All this, however, requires the addition of about 12 years, from the end of
the period when Avraham lived in the land of the Pelishtim until the Akeidah.
Rashi (on Bereishit 22:19) says that for those 12 years Avraham returned to
There are two problems with this chronology, as pointed out by Tosafot on
Yevamot 61b (“v’chen”). One is the fact that Rivkah, shortly before her
marriage (Bereishit 24:16), is called NA’ARAH, which refers to a girl of at
least 12 years of age!
The other problem is a midrash (Sifri Devarim 34:36) that states that Rivkah
lived to the same age as Kehat, 133 years (see Shemot 6:18). This, say the
Tosafists, represents a divergent midrashic tradition: As Rashi proves (on
Bereishit 28:9 and 33:8), Yaakov received the blessing when he was 63, then
spent 14 years studying with Ever, after which he worked for Lavan for 20
years and received word of his mother’s death two years later, for a total of
99 years. If Rivkah was 3 at the time of her marriage, then she was 23 when
Yaakov was born, but that would make Rivkah only 122 at her death! Where are
the missing 11 years?
The second version of Bereishit Rabbah 56:11 solves this. It says that
Yitzchak was 26 at the Akeidah, at the end of Avraham’s residence in the land
of the Pelishtim. It is this version which R. Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna,
adopts. According to this chronology, Sarah did not die at the time of the
Akeidah, because she was only 116. However, Rivkah was born then, so Rivkah
was 14 when she married Yitzchak.
Yitzchak’s love for Rivkah was so deep that he allowed twenty years, rather
than the permitted ten, to pass before praying for an end to her barrenness.
According to this time-line, Rivkah was 34 when Yaakov was born. When Yaakov
received the blessing 63 years later, she was 97. Yaakov received word of her
death 36 years later, when she was 133, as the Sifri cited above stated.
As our Sages say (Bamidbar Rabbah 13), “There are seventy facets to the
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Toledot tells us of Yitzchak, who is now happily married, living in Israel
and involved in providing for his young family. Unfortunately, however,
financial conditions begin to worsen, affecting not only Yitzchak, but the
entire region. What is a responsible husband and father to do? Yitzchak
decides to do precisely what his father did - pick up and move to another
country where life is easier, where he will be able to enjoy prosperity
and financial security. Not only does Yitzchak make up his mind to leave,
but he is already on the road (26:1) when HaShem appears to him and says:
“Don't go... sojourn in this land... and I will be with you and bless
Rashi explains that HaShem tells Yitzchak “ein chutza
la’Aretz kedai lecha” - it doesn't befit you to be in chutz la’Aretz. It
isn't “kedai” - worthwhile, fitting, proper, or appropriate for you.
Although Yitzchak enjoyed a special status after the Akeida, knowing how
to choose what is “kedai” is a lesson that must be learned by every
observant Jew. It is true that there may be many reasons - economic,
professional, and familial - to live outside of Israel. But Hashem tells
Yitzchak - and through him He tells all of us - that any decision on this
matter must be based not on what is most comfortable, but on what is
Rabbi Eliezer Langer
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320