LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Women in the Bible are generally portrayed in traditional terms, taking a quiet stance in the background to the strong male characters who dominated the patriarchal society of their time.
Chosen men such as Noah and Abraham struggled and endured to fulfill God's mission on Earth for the preservation of future generations.
Studying biblical women can encourage different perspectives, which bring new meaning and relevance to life. Indeed, this was the case for a group of women who met recently to take part in an outreach summer study and socializing program in Lakewood Ranch to study the "Matriarch of Israel," considered by some the most fascinating woman in the Bible.
"It's interesting to discuss the woman's role in the Torah because we rarely hear them. Today, we have a fascinating woman right here," program coordinator Susan Mallitz said in reference to guest speaker Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman of Temple Emanu-El in Sarasota.
For Glickman, who conducted the study, the extraordinary woman is Rebekah, wife of Abraham's son, Isaac, and mother of twins sons, Esau and Jacob. In just two hours, Glickman led the group on a journey of a much-misunderstood woman more intuitive and stronger than even the Bible credits her.
"Rebekah has been a source of inspiration for many generations. God entrusted his prophecy to Rebekah because he knew she was strong. It was a great gift but also a great burden," said Glickman, a noted speaker, teacher and author who holds a master's degree in Hebrew letters and is married to Rabbi Brenner Glickman of Temple Emanu-El.
Rebekah, the most prominent woman in the Book of Genesis after Sarah, Abraham's wife, fulfills all the expectations of a matriarchal female in terms of her generosity, thoughtfulness, kindness, beauty and purity. Yet, there's more to her than meets the eye.
When she was a young girl, Abraham sent his servant to his ancestral home to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Here, the servant meets Rebekah and sees how strong and intuitive she is. She speaks up to a stranger, tells the servant her name and offers him food and water along with offering water for his camels.
Glickman said it's unusual to see such confidence and determination in a young woman of the Hebrew Bible.
"To have that confidence to go up to a stranger, introduce herself, offer him help and not be afraid shows some of her defining characteristics. She's a doer. She had a great deal of strength and intuition and she has a voice, which usually doesn't happen in the Bible," Glickman said.
After Rebekah leaves her family and returns with the servant, she marries Isaac in what the Bible implies was a true, loving relationship, not often reflected among Biblical marriages.
During the course of her marriage, Rebekah struggled with infertility until her husband prayed and she became pregnant with twins. When she inquired why this was happening, the Lord replied: "Two nations in your womb and two peoples from within you will be separated; one will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger." (excerpted from Genesis 25:21-28)
The narrative's great prophecy forces Rebekah to make a defining choice with consequences for the rest of her life.
Her older son, Esau is strong and preferred by Isaac, but younger, weaker son, Jacob, is destined to become the patriarch of the Jewish nation. As the story unfolds, when Isaac grows old and blind and is about to die, he wishes to bless Esau to continue his legacy, but knowing the prophecy, Rebekah tricks her husband into believing Jacob is Esau, and he in turn, receives his father's blessing.
"Her prophecy from God was a great gift, but also a great burden, knowing what will happen and that people, the ones you love most, will get hurt," Glickman told the group. "My son let the curse fall on me, she tells Jacob. Even when people do the right thing, there can be consequences and much sorrow. She's an admirable and tragic figure at the same time."
Davida Weinberg, who recently moved to Sarasota from Arizona, said the choice to study Rebekah was thought-provoking.
"She brought out such wonderful thoughts and things to ponder," Weinberg said. "I like that she opened up a window and another way of looking at the story so you can put your interpretation into it."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.