2002In last week's parsha, Rebecca is selected by Abraham's servant to wed Isaac. Her family asks her, "Will you go with this man?" and she answers "I will." Their blessing to her as she leaves is that she should be "the mother of myriads," that she should have numerous offspring - a wonderful blessing of fertility. But in this week's parsha, Toldot, Rebecca, like many of our matriarchs, has difficulty conceiving at all. And once she becomes pregnant, she has difficulties with the pregnancy. Our parsha begins:
Being a Prophet
"Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebecca conceived. But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, 'If so, why do I exist?' She went to inquire of the Lord, and the Lord answered her..."
Your Torah Navigator:
1. How did Isaac plead with the Lord so that his prayers were answered?
2. What does Rebecca mean by "If so, why do I exist?"
3. What does it mean that Rebecca "went to inquire of the Lord"?
4. Did Rebecca hear God's voice when God answered her?
Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the Rambam, teaches concerning these verses that when the Torah says "And the Lord spoke to [so-and-so]," if that person was not a prophet, then the prophecy was told to that person by someone who was a prophet. In our case, he refers to the midrash of Genesis Rabbah to prove his point, saying that Rebecca consulted with those in the school of Eber:
Guide for the Perplexed II:41
Thus the text says: "And she went to inquire of the Lord" (Gen 25:22) but [the Sages] say in explanation: "To the school of Eber" (Genesis Rabbah LXIII). And that school gave her an answer; and it is with reference to the same event that it is said: "And the Lord said unto her" (Gen 25:23). And even though it has been said that the expression, "And the Lord said unto her," means that this was done through the agency of an angel, this should be interpreted as signifying that Eber was the angel; for a prophet is sometimes called angel, as we shall make clear. Or else this explanation alludes to the angel who came to Eber with the prophecy in question; or it is intended to make explicit that whenever words are unqualifiedly ascribed to God, they came, as we have explained in the case of the other prophets, through the agency of an angel.
Your Guide Navigator:
1. Was Eber the angel, or did an angel come to Eber?
2. What is Maimonides trying to prove by quoting Genesis Rabbah?
3. Could the angel have come directly to Rebecca?
In times of crisis, we cry out to God, as Rebecca did. Whether God answers, and how God answers is part of what these texts focus on. Sometimes we are unable to see the answers ourselves, but when we go to another person, outside our situation, they can see more clearly than we do. Rebecca is able to see clearly, later in our parsha, that Esau is the wrong son to assume the mantle of his father's leadership. There, she seems like a prophet. Here, she is too close to the situation and needs Eber's counsel. We all have times in our lives when we can be "prophets" or "angels" to others, and when others can be "prophets" or "angels" for us.
When Rebecca says "'If so, why do I exist?" it is an expression of despair--she sees no way out of her situation. But she does not give up. She goes to "inquire of the Lord" and, according to Rambam, to gain advice from Eber. It is important that when we are in situations for which we can not see our way out, that we do not give up. Among those we should turn to are our friends, family, teachers, colleagues, students, and to God.
Prepared by Rabbi Esther Reed, Assistant Director, Rutgers University Hillel.