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Rabbi Shekel on Parashat Toldot

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In Parashat Toldot, a compassionate Isaac prays on behalf of his barren wife, Rebecca. God responds to Isaac’s prayer and Rebecca becomes pregnant with twins. The Torah then relates, “But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, ‘If so, why do I exist?’ And she went to inquire of God. And God answered her” (Genesis 25:22-23).

This appears straightforward: there is something unexpected in her pregnancy, she questions God about it and God responds. Yet most commentators place an intermediary between Rebecca and God. “To inquire” in Hebrew is lidrosh, related to beit midrash. This explains why those interpreting the passage have Rebecca seeking out an academy where she presents her question and receives the response via a human intermediary.

Ibn Ezra takes another perspective, sending Rebecca to inquire of other women as to whether what she is experiencing is a normal part of pregnancy. Only Ramban reads lidrosh in a different way, understanding it as a prayer from the anguished woman to God, who then provides a direct response to Rebecca.

Rebecca’s blessing of fertility comes with unforeseen consequences. Her acceptance of the situation and desire to give it meaning sets her on a spiritual quest encapsulated in her question, “Why do I exist?” Is it so difficult to believe that a compassionate God would not respond directly to a woman who delves deeply into her soul and extends a spiritual hand to the divine?

God speaks to Eve and to Sarah. Abraham converses with God. Eliezer asks God for a sign. Isaac entreats God on behalf of his wife. Like the men, Rebecca takes the initiative, but her inquiry, far from transactional, reveals a deep spiritual desire. According to Kli Yakar, the question “If so, why do I exist?” probes into God’s existence and essence. Rebecca is asking on behalf of all of us.

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