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“Why Do We Exist?” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

November 25, 2022 | 1 Kislev 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Sometimes, when things don’t go right we might ask ourselves: Why do I exist? What is my purpose here?

In this week’s Torah portion, the matriarch, Rebekah, finally conceived after her husband, Isaac, pleaded with the Eternal on her behalf. Once barren, but no longer, she faced a pregnancy with twins. It was difficult because the “children struggled in her womb.”  (Genesis 25: 22) Distraught by the rumbling within, she cried out:

“Why do I exist?”

This question is eternal. In the moment of her despair, she pondered her very existence. Though she will learn that she carried two nations, opposing forces, where one would be mightier than the other, she gave voice to her own struggle.

It is the first of many signs that their family life would be complicated. Once the boys entered the world, the situation did not improve. Esau bargained away his birthright as firstborn for a lentil stew.  Discomfort and disquiet permeated the life of this family. At the end of Isaac’s life, Jacob disguised himself at the urging of his mother to appear as if he were Esau so that Jacob would receive his father’s innermost blessing.

When Esau came forward, the blessing had already been offered. He gave voice to his despair:  “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”

His plaintive cry is eternal as well. When what he expected is denied from him, he pleaded for blessing as well.

The Torah does not wrap life up in a neat package. This story of forfeited birthrights and stolen blessings acknowledge that life remains complicated from ancient days to the present.

Within this portion, in particular, with lots of plot twists and manipulative machinations, someone, like Rebekah or Esau, posed the question of why did this happen? It occurred not when all went right but when it felt like it was wrong.

Sometimes such questions about our existence and our ability to receive blessing, despite the hardship, draw upon inner resources we may not realize we possess.

We enter Shabbat this week with the recognition that pieces of our lives and in the world don’t or won’t ever all fit together, and despite it and maybe because of it, we can still ask for blessing.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Elaine Zecher