The Torah tells that when Avraham’s servant returned to Canaan with Rivka, whom he had brought as a wife for Yitzchak, Rivka saw Yitzchak from a distance and asked the servant, “Who is this man who is walking in the field to greet us?” (24:65). The servant, of course, replied that this was Yitzchak.
The Panei’ach Raza (one of the Tosafists) cites a mysterious comment of the Midrash that Yitzchak appeared to Rivka upside-down – with his head on the ground and his feet in the air. This was, needless to say, a most unusual sight, and thus Rivka asked the servant who this person was.
How might we explain this peculiar image depicted by the Midrash – of Rivka seeing Yitzchak for the first time standing upside-down?
The Tolna Rebbe suggested that the Midrash depicts this image to underscore the directly opposite backgrounds of Yitzchak and Rivka. While Yitzchak was raised by saintly parents – Avraham and Sara – Rivka was raised in the home of Betuel, whom Chazal in several contexts describe as an idolater and corrupt evildoer. Yitzchak grew up in a home characterized by faith and kindness, whereas Rivka was raised in a home characterized by idol-worship, greed and selfishness. And so when Yitzchak and Rivka met for the first time, they appeared as opposites. Although Rivka was certainly different from her parents – as she would otherwise not have been chosen as Yitzchak’s mate – nevertheless, her upbringing and background were the opposite of Yitzchak’s. Now that Rivka was marrying Yitzchak, she needed to adapt to practices that were so drastically different from that to which she was accustomed, and this anxiety is graphically illustrated by the Midrash through the image of Yitzchak appearing upside-down.
As we go through life, we grow familiar and accustomed to, and comfortable with, certain ways of doing things, certain habits, procedures, protocols and norms. Anything different strikes us as strange, unusual and improper. The Midrash here perhaps teaches us of the need to open our minds and accept styles and approaches which at first seem “upside-down.” Not everything we have grown accustomed to is necessarily correct, and not everything we have grown accustomed to is exclusively correct. Certainly, we all hold to a number of important core values and principles, and follow a number of practices, to which we must stubbornly adhere. At the same time, however, when it comes to many of our ideas, opinions and behaviors, we are encouraged to open our minds to other possibilities, to acknowledge that even that which might initially seem strange and unusual might have merit, and that our way of thinking and behaving might not always be entirely correct.