Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Toledot 5761

Is This All There Is?

It goes by many names. "Why bad things happen to good people." Why evil exists." "Is Gd the source of evil as well as good?" In the academy, we give it a fancy name - theodicy.

No matter what you call it, it is an issue that has plagued humankind since time immemorial. Abraham addresses the question indirectly when he argues with Gd about Sodom and Gomorrah.

Rebekkah is driven by the discomfort of her pregnancy to ask it.

"Im-keyn, lama zeh anochi" (Gen 25:22)

Literally "if thus, why this I?" It gets poetic reshaping in translation. The JPS editors say "If this is so, why do I exist?" The NRSV committee settled on "If it is to be this way, why do I live?"

But there is something wonderful in the native structure of the Hebrew as it is phrased. "Is this the price I must pay to overcome my barrenness?" asks Rebekkah. But it is only an assumption on the commentator's part that Rebekkah is complaining about the difficulty of the pregnancy, and a culturally influenced pattern to simply accept the biblical narrative attributing the childlessness to barrenness on Rebekkah's part, rather than some lack on Isaac's. Having gone thru the trauma of his Father almost sacrificing him, I wouldn't be surprised if Isaac had some form of psychological impotence. And perhaps the desire to not have children lest Gd put him to the same test as his father was put to.

But there is another interpretation possible in understanding "If thus, why this I?" Perhaps, recognizing the significance of her having become pregnant with twins, and seeing the struggling in her womb not as a problem of pain for her but as a portent of an important future for her unborn children, Rebekkah sees herself as undeserving of the honor. Thus, her question is not of the "poor me" variety, but rather of the "I am unworthy, Lrd" type.

Consider what Rebekkah does next after questioning this struggling in her womb. She does not seek comfort, salves, a midwife's ear, etc. No, she goes to inquire of Gd. (Loving so much to eisegete between the lines of the text-the rest of you can look that up later-modern commentators love to intimate that she must have gone to an oracle. I don't buy it. I think she went right to the source, without an intermediary. And she gets a direct answer.

Two great nations are in her womb, and the younger shall lead the older. Hardly the perfect words to console a woman wracked with pregnancy pangs.

Does Rebekkah receive an answer to her question "im-keyn, lama zeh anochi?" If your interpretation is that she is asking why she is suffering so and seeking relief for her suffering, the answer is likely no. After she received the answer, she did not complain or question. So Gd's answer was satisfactory to answer her question. Thus this was not the question she was asking.

But if your interpretation is that she felt unworthy of this great yet burdensome honor, then she receives an answer - and one she accepts, judging from her silence. Rebekkah is content, for now, to be an instrument of Gd.

Later, however, she is not so content. Perhaps seeking some recompense for her suffering in pregnancy, Rebekkah seeks to force Gd's predictions into reality by encouraging Jacob's deception. But I doubt Rebekkah would have had the courage or gaul to do so and thus so openly challenge (or doubt?) Gd. No, Rebekkah's willingness to force destiny stems from her conviction that she was chosen, honored by Gd, to carry these children and bring them into the world.

Im-Kein, lamah zeh anochi?

There are myriads of interpretations. And take it out of context, and you can go almost anywhere with is. Why not try your own hand at some exegesis?

Shabbat Shalom,

©  2000 by Adrian A. Durlester

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