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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Toledot - Lama Ze Anochi?

ויתרוצצו הבנים בקרבה, ותאמר: אם כן למה זה אנוכי? ותלך לדרוש את ה'

(בראשית כ"ה, כ"ב)

This week’s parasha, Toledot, opens with the story of the birth of Ya'akov and Esav. Rivka, wife of Yitzhak is pregnant with the twins and we are told she feels them struggling within her:

And the children struggled together within her; and she said: if it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord.

(Genesis 25, 22; KJV)

Rashi explains that the struggle was a result of the different, opposing traits of the twins. Whenever Rivka would walk by a place of Torah study, Ya’akov would struggle to get out and join the learning. And when she walked by places of idolatry, Esav would struggle to get out and worship the idols. This midrash wishes to teach us that the future was already determined in the womb; Ya’akov and Esav were diametrically opposed to each other by their very own nature, even before birth.

Why does Rivka react to this struggle by crying out: lama ze anochi (why am I thus)? It seems that she is blaming herself (anochi) for this struggle. To understand this, we need to look back to the origins of Rivka and why she became Yitzchak's wife.

Last week, we read about Avraham’s efforts to secure the future of his son Yitzchak by making sure he gets married to a proper woman. Avraham sends his loyal servant to his own birthplace and family, to Aram Nahara’im, in order to bring back a wife for his son. He makes the servant swear that he Yitzchak will not marry a local, a Canaanite woman.

Many commentators explain that Avraham went to great lengths to avoid the Canaanites because they were idol worshippers by nature whereas his family back east was mistakengly worshipping idols because of their ill-founded ideas. In other words, whereas people from his birthplace could conceivable be taught that idolatry was wrong and converted to believe in one God, the Canaanites were inherently defective. It was as if the Canaanites were genetically predisposed to worship idols and were therefore incorrigible.

Avraham did not want Yitzchak to marry a "true" idolatress. He wished to avoid the risk of idolatry passing on to his grandchildren through the genes of their Canaanite mother. And this is why Rivka was chosen; she could get rid of her family's ways just like Avraham did.

Now we can turn back to Rivka to understand why she is blaming herself - lama ze anochi? She finds out, to her horror, that Esav her son is naturally attracted to places of idolatry. She is shocked by this finding and is worried that perhaps her family's wrong ideas were somehow transferred to her son through her. It was to avoid this outcome that she, and not a Canaanite woman, was chosen to be Yitzchak’s wife and now it looks like Avraham’s “trick” has failed. Somehow, the trait of idolatry seems to have passed from her to her son.

This is why she uses the expression anochi, blaming herself. It is as if she is saying: if Esav has turned out to be an idol worshipper, then there is no reason why I was chosen to be Yitzchak’s wife. Lama ze anochi meaning: I have failed my purpose.

It is interesting to note what Rivka does immediately after this realization: lidrosh et hashem, she goes to seek advice from God. The Torah teaches us what a person should do when the world seems to crumble around us, the future looks hopeless and we are at a loss as to our purpose in life: seek God!

I got the idea for this thought from זכות_שתיקה's post on the עצור כאן חושבים forum.

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