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Rebecca at the well; 19th century chromolithograph trade card for Dr. Jayne's herbal medicines, signed by the artist "MKG"

Rebecca, also spelled Rebekah, was a Jewish matriarch, the ancestress of the nations of Israel and Edom, the wife of the Biblical patriarch Isaac, and the mother of twin sons, Jacob and Esau. She was the first woman in the Bible, and the only matriarch, to receive a blessing, for as she left for her new life with Isaac, her family blessed her: "May you grow into thousands of myriads. May your offspring seize the gates of their foes." This blessing is echoed in many modern Jewish marriage services to this day. However, Rebecca's receipt of the blessing was long delayed and she struggled with infertility for the first twenty years of her marriage. She and her husband constantly prayed for her fertility and their prayers were eventually granted. However, during her pregnancy, tradition tells she was in such great distress from constant fetal movement that went from house to house asking if anyone else had ever experienced the like. When she consulted the Lord JHVH to find out why this was happening, Yahweh's answer to her was: "Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger." She was delivered of twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau grew up to be a mighty hunter, while his brother Jacob was a faithful homebody and a keen student of the word of God. As the first-born of the twins, Esau was to inherit Isaac's patriarchal blessing, but he was a man of uncertain temperament, and one day, while hungry, he traded his birthright for a bowl of stew from Jacob.

As Isaac's life drew to its close and his vision dimmed, he asked Esau to go hunting and prepare his favorite meal with the prey, "that my soul may bless thee before I die." This may have been a ceremonial meal to solemnize a binding covenant between father and son. Rebecca, overhearing this command, carried out her own plans: she told Jacob to go to their flock, butcher two goat kids, and she would prepare the meal that Isaac craved. She told Jacob to take the food to Isaac and he would received the blessing intended for Esau. She also made sure to cover Jacob's bare arms and neck with the skins of the goats, so that he would be hairy like Esau to his father's touch. She then gave Jacob Esau's clothes to wear -- which, according to Jewish tradition, included the very skin coat which JHVH made for Adam when he left Eden, and which caused all animals to bow down before him. The deception succeeded: Jacob received the blessing intended for the elder son, to Esau's consternation. Rebecca, fearing for Jacob's life, sent him to live with her brother Laban until Esau's rage should burn out. Many years later, the brothers reconciled. Rebecca's manipulation of events enabled "the older to serve the younger," fulfilling prophecy, carrying out the will of God, and completing the promise which Esau had made when he traded his birthright for a meal.

Rebecca is venerated as a prophetess, a woman of kind and gracious hospitality, and as one who cared for the comfort of strangers, guests, and the many domestic animals attached to the family. She is often portrayed by the well where she first met Eliezer, the servant of Isaac, either giving him a drink or watering the thirsty camels that came with him. As a matriarch, she is may be shown receiving the gift of wedding jewelry, or as a participant in the ruse whereby Jacob received the blessing intended for Esau. She, like Sarah, who also gave birth late in life, is petitioned by women who have been diagnosed with infertility, as well as by women whose pregnancies are difficult, or who are anticipating the birth of twins.


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