- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On November 9, 2018
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings.
This week we have arrived to a pregnant Rebecca whose belly holds twins. After finally conceiving, the sons struggled within her. The Hebrew is yitrotzetzu. (Genesis 25:22) We know that these two in her womb will set the stage for confrontation, deception, strife, and dispute. Jacob and Esau, these little babies who have not yet even emerged to breathe the same breath bestowed upon the first human by God, whose souls only hold the pure possibility of life have already begun to tussle. The ancient rabbis saw within the Hebrew of to struggle, the word, ritzah, which means to move quickly. They imagined in their own anachronistic way that when Rebecca walked past a house of study, Jacob would agitate and struggle to emerge, but when she was near a house of idolatry or other places of ill repute, Esau quickened his movement to push. The Midrash is clear what is set up from within Rebecca: physical hostility, irreconcilable ideals, and eternal enmity are their destiny.
The sons struggled, yitrotzitzu, within her. The verb in this form only appears once throughout the Bible. It is reflexive in its structure. Struggling with the other entails struggling with oneself. How the story of Jacob and Esau plays itself out impacts both of them. No one is left unscathed in the course of human history when one group struggles with another, often to devastating effects.
When Rebecca inquired from God about these struggling twins within her, God responded in an oracle fashion conveying that there are two nations with two separate peoples, one of which will be mightier than the other. The last line potentially clarified which one would be mightier, often translated as “The older shall serve the younger.” (25:23) As we know, Esau emerged first. However, there is a grammatical problem that actually makes the statement ambiguous. It could also read, “The younger will serve the older.” Because of the grammatical structure that needs the Hebrew word, et, it is not clear which noun is the object and which is the subject. It will take human actions, like the selling of the birthright from Esau to Jacob and the taking of the blessing by Jacob assisted by his mother, Rebecca, to define specifically the meaning and ultimate outcome of the prediction. Their fate resulted from what they chose to do not necessarily because it was predetermined.
At the end of the parashah, after Jacob is sent away as protection from Esau who sought to kill him, the text described Rebecca as the mother of Jacob and Esau. The commentator, Rashi, perplexed, commented, “I don’t understand what it teaches.” In other words, what is the purpose of having this descriptive line here in the Torah at this point? Another commentator responded, “as a result of Jacob leaving and Esau not killing him, fratricide has been prevented.” They still remain brothers, children of the same mother. That is the value the portion lifts up at the end. Ultimately in a few portions from now and a lifetime later, the brothers meet again and reconcile.
The potential for destruction is matched by the possibility for reconciliation and goodness. On this Shabbat, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the destructive rampage against Jews in Germany, we remember that moment in history as prescient to the attempted ultimate annihilation of the millions of Jews in Europe. Unchecked violence, antisemitism, and bigotry have potential predictable outcomes. So we pay attention. We refuse to stand idly by. We act together. The ancient lessons of the Torah call out to us still to transform our human capacity for ill toward taking care of one another. It is up to us to struggle to wrestle the goodness out of each other and help to heal this ever so fractured world.
Qabbalat Shabbat begins at 6:00 p.m. tonight. If you cannot join us, live stream HERE.
Tomorrow Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. with a short service followed by a lively discussion.
I look forward to your thoughts and reflections, please send them to me directly, HERE.
 Dr. Eliezer Diamond, JTSA.edu 10/05/2010 Parshat Toldot