1999(19) This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac.
(20) Isaac was forty years old when he took to wife Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddanaram, sister of Laban the Aramean.
(21) Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived.
(22) But the children struggled (also, were "on the run," see below) in her womb, and she said, "If so, why do I exist?"
She went to inquire of the Lord, (23) and the Lord answered her, "Two nations are in your womb, Two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, And the older shall serve the younger."
Your Torah Navigator
How does Rebekah's conversation with God create a context for the role that she will later play with her children?
1. Is it easy for Rebekah to become pregnant? Once pregnant, is her pregnancy an easy one?
2. What do you think the meaning is of her question "Lamah ze anochi--If so, why do I exist?" (JPS translates this literally as "If so, why then am/do I...")? Is she expressing frustration at her physical burden, or is the pain making her ask some more probing questions about the meaning of her life?
3. Does God's reply answer her question(s)? What are the different ways that God's reply might be read? (hint: one reading might be, "Here is the reason your pregnancy is so painful" and another might be, "Here is the reason you exist, here is the reason for your life.")
4. Is God predicting the future for Rebekah (as this all will indeed become true), or is God telling Rebekah to take a role in making this oracle come to fruition (as she will, in fact, later do by having Jacob dress up like his older twin in order to receive his father's blessing in verses 27:5-13)?
5. If God tells Rebekah what is to be, is she still responsible for making sure that it happens? How does this instruct our own relationship with God or with our efforts in living our own lives?
Genesis Rabbah, Chapter 63:6
"And the children seemed to be ever on the run within her" (Gen. 25:22). When Rebekah passed synagogues or houses of study, Jacob (in utero) was scurrying within her in his eagerness to get out; and when she passed houses of idolatry, Esau (in utero) was scurrying in his eagerness to get out.
Your Midrash Navigator
1. The midrash uses a play on the word 'yi-ro-tz'tzu,' on the run, to explain both the unusual use of the word as well as to offer some insight into Rebekah's physical condition. Here again, we are given some for shadowing on the life of these twins and the nature of their relationship. What role does "running" have in their future? How does this "running" continue to cause Rebekah pain in her later life?
2. How is it that one womb carried both the potential for prayer and for idolatry? (Perhaps this teaches us that the two are very close together, like brothers, and if we are not careful, our prayer can also turn into idolatry.) In what way could we say that these two brothers represent parts of ourselves?
3. If Rebekah hadn't felt the twins struggling (other texts tell us that she didn't know she was having twins) would she have asked God her question? Did the twins play a role in securing their own destiny? (Because once Rebekah asked, their destiny was spelled out explicitly...)
In this wonderful and terse exchange between Rebekah and God, the tension of who is responsible for the creation of destiny is thrown into the light. Is it Rebekah, who asks the question of why she exists and then opens herself up to the promises that God gives her? Or is it the twins, who potentially represent good and evil, and who instigate the circumstances (pain) that ensure Rebekah asks her question? Or is it God (who gives the answer to the question of the future but doesn't explain either how the future will come about, or who will be responsible for it)?
Prepared by Rabbi Noa Rachael Kushner, Campus Rabbi, Stanford University