Miracles Out of Nowhere
"It's so simple, right before your eyes
If you'll only look through this disguise
It's always here, it's always there
It's just love, and miracles out of nowhere"
- Kansas, "Miracles Out Of Nowhere"
There's been a big debate going on for the past few days in Dov Bear. Of course big debates are quite commonplace in that particular blog, and, to be honest, I nearly always avoid participation, as I find the general tone taken by both author and contributors far too uncompromising and ruthless for my tastes. But in this case the post was discussing one of my hot button topics: the age of Rivkah (Rebecca) when she was chosen as wife for Yitzchak (Isaac), as narrated in this week's parshah of Chayei Sarah.
According to the midrash which they seem to teach in every yeshiva ketana I've ever encountered, Rivkah was all of three years old when these events took place. Aside from the blatant issue of propriety this raises - discussed to death in the DB post linked above - it is obvious that the young woman depicted in this narrative is far older than toddlerhood, whether from the standpoint of her words, her actions, or - perhaps especially - her discerning judgment.
Ah, but some will reply, Rivkah was no ordinary tot, she was a supernatural three-year-old who could lift huge buckets of water, talk like an adult, sort through intricate social amenities, etc. In other words, if we are asked to believe that Rivkah was chronologically three at this time, we have to assume that a huge miracle took place, a miracle that is nowhere implied or even hinted at in the text.
And this is where my main issue lies. I believe that the world was created to run by a set of rules, with open miracles [nissim nigluim in Talmudic parlance] taking place only when absolutely necessary. Our universe is not, and never was, a haphazard place, full of "miracles out of nowhere". Thus, if a midrashic marvel is not specified in the written Torah as such, I try to understand it as a parable or moral lesson, but not in a literal sense. And in fact even those miracles that are explicitly documented should be explained as much as possible as extensions to the universe's natural laws, or exceptions to those laws that were built-in from the beginning, as is said of the ten miracles listed in Avos 5:8. This view is supported by numerous statements of chazal.
Given this, plus the support in several other sources for Rivkah being fourteen or older at this time (see here for details), how do I understand the "age three" midrash, brought down by Rashi in our parshah? After all, as the famous quote says, midrashim need not always be taken literally, but they must always be taken seriously. And Rashi is hardly a meforash to be easily dismissed.
Well, Rashi himself provides a clue, in his famous comment on the very first verse of this same parshah! In explaining the Torah's breakdown of Sarah's age into three separate components of 100, 20, and 7, Rashi states that this shows her virtue and beauty remained constant throughout her life stages - i.e., she was a sinless at 100 as at 20. Similarly, the description of Rivkah as a three-year-old could be understood as telling us that she maintained the innocence and sweetness of a young child even as she matured into the charming and sophisticated young lady we meet in this parshah.
Which, as us parents of teenagers well know, is surely quite miraculous enough!