TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
Difficult Pregnancy - A Difficult Motherhood
Rabbi Yaakov Beasley
the death and burial Avraham Avinu described at the end of last week’s
parsha, we expect that the Torah will now concentrate on Yitzchak. Instead, the Torah details how fruitful
Yishmael has become; twelve children come effortlessly (as for Nachor before
him), and each one is mentioned by name and is labeled “a prince.” Only with Yishmael’s death does the
spotlight turn to Yitzchak. And the
difference between the two sons could not be greater:
And these are the generations of Yitzchak, Abraham's son; Abraham begot
Yitzchak. 20 And Yitzchak was forty years old when he took
Rivka, the daughter of Betuel the Aramean of Paddan-Aram, the sister of Lavan
the Aramean, to be his wife.
of the names of Yitzchak’s children, the Torah informs us (twice in the first
verse!) about Yitzchak’s father. In
no other place in the Tanakh does an account of “generations” begin with
a description of how the individual “was generated.”
anomaly led the commentators to attempt to explain the apparent redundancy. Rashi suggests that Hashem caused
Yitzchak’s features to change so that he resembled Avraham, as scoffers were
suggesting that Avimelech had impregnated Sarah while she was held captive in
Gerar. The Ramban and others
propose that the extra wording was meant to highlight Yitzchak’s role as the
most important of Avraham’s children.
However, similar wording is lacking when we study how the Torah describes
the generations of Esav and Yaakov.
the Ibn Ezra maintains that the wording is meant to remind the reader that
Avraham was the one who raised Yitzchak.
Apparently, the most salient fact for us is that Yitzchak is Avraham’s
son. This point is hammered home as
we see Yitzchak retrace his father’s footsteps – to Gerar, where Rivka will be
in danger like Sara before her, to the re-digging of the wells Avraham had dug,
to coping with a spouse’s inability to conceive.
importantly, we are reminded that Yitzchak is the first son to be born into a
family committed to Hashem in a covenant. This agreement transforms the natural
relationship that exists between father and son into a vehicle for the teaching
of holiness, righteousness, and justice (Bereishit 18:19). Avraham chose this relationship;
Yitzchak did not. The choice to
serve Hashem was made for him by Avraham. Now, we wonder, will Yitzchak be
as successful in transmitting those values to his children? Every son in the covenant will be faced
with this question.
this is not a challenge that Yitzchak must face alone. Beside him stands Rivka, she of the
unflattering pedigree. Both her
father and brother are pointedly referred to as Arameans. However, her genealogy is misleading; we
witnessed her goodness in action last week when she ran to water a stranger and
his camels. Her actions were
selfless, unlike those of her brother Lavan, who ran only upon sight of the
riches that adorned his sister. She
is indeed Avraham’s replacement. Like him, she left her family and country
behind, abandoning the idols of her people for the one God of
yet, for twenty years, the expected progeny do not come. Not only may Yitzchak not be able to
transmit the values that he received from his father to his children, he may not
have any children at all! Unlike
his father (and later his son), however, Yitzchak does not turn to a concubine
to provide the necessary progeny.
Instead, he turns directly to Hashem:
21 And Yitzchak
entreated Hashem for his wife, because she was barren; and Hashem
let Himself be entreated of him, and Rivka his wife conceived.
answers Yitzchak immediately; indeed, it appears that good fortune and Divine
blessing follow Yitzchak whenever he faces obstacles and challenges.
after two decades of infertility and frustration and with their conception
resulting from prayer, the children will be viewed as nothing less then Divine
gifts. But the pregnancy faces the
unexpected as well:
And the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it be so,
wherefore do I live?” And she went to inquire of Hashem.
question confuses the reader. Why
the sudden existential doubts? Are
pregnancies supposed to be easy?
That her confusion was that of a new mother-to-be is in fact suggested by
the Rashbam, the pashtan par excellence, who understands her travails as
the normal behavior of embryos in the womb and the extra pains resulting from
her carrying twins. The Seforno
almost whimsically suggests that her utterance was based on the blessing that
she received from her family upon leaving Aram – “May you be the mother of tens
of thousands!” We can almost hear
her exclaim, “With pains like these - no thanks!” Rashi brings a midrashic answer to
explain the source of Rivka’s confusion:
“Whenever she would pass by the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, Yaakov would
struggle, attempting to go towards it; and whenever she passed a house of idol
worship, Esav would struggle, attempting to go towards it.”
may also suggest a simpler understanding. If Rivka is indeed destined to finally
produce an heir, someone to transmit values and teachings to, why two
children? Are they to give to both,
or just to one? And if so, to
whom? To her questions,
And Hashem said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples
shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than
the other people, ve-rav ya’avod tza’ir, and the elder shall serve
the younger [or – the elder, the younger shall
a very personal question, Hashem provides a rather political
response. These are not two
children - they are two distinct nations, two separate peoples. Moreover, these two peoples will
struggle with one another. One will
lead, the other will serve. As
Rashi points out, they will never be strong at the same time – one’s rise
inevitably will lead to the other’s fall.
But only one will belong to the path blazed by Avraham.
Hashem does not identify which line that will be, which son will
prevail. To the Ibn Ezra and the
Rashbam, it is clear that the elder son will serve the younger. The Rashbam adds that this is the reason
that Rivka favored Yaakov, for Hashem had told her so. Ibn Caspi, the Redak, and the Abrabanel,
however, all point out that the Hebrew is ambiguous, missing the grammatical
construct “et” to indicate who shall serve whom (ve-rav ya’avod et
ha-tza’ir). They suggest
that the purpose of the ambiguity is to reflect the varying rise and fall of the
children’s (and their descendants’) fortunes throughout history.
we can suggest a different approach.
Each child may contain within him the seeds of greatness. Natural birth order – the rule of
primogeniture - does not matter in the Torah’s thought. Nothing opposes the traditional rule of
the elder, with its accompanying inequality, more then twins – two equals at
birth. If Rivka is looking for a natural answer
to her concerns, she is told that those factors are not to be considered when
discussing the transmission of values or what the future may hold. The choices that the children will make
are what will decide their fate.
Unlike Yitzchak, who can and will be tempted by immediate concerns, Rivka
will approach childbirth with a long-term view, combining love for the present
with concern for the future. As
such, Hashem’s ambiguous and elliptical answer perfectly conveys to Rivka
what being a mother in Israel means.