25/929 The Challenge of Complexity

This is a hopefully daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il

“Her days to give birth were completed, and- behold! Twins in her stomach!” With the use of  the word ‘behold’, the text suggests that the birth of twins was a surprise. Not for Rivka, for the Divine revelation explaining her terrible pregnancy pains had already informed her, but rather for Yitzchak, who she apparently had decided not to let in on the secret. And perhaps we can understand her reluctance. Yitzchak is the paragon of simplicity, sometimes referred to in rabbinic literature as an Olah Temimah- a pure/simple offering. Unlike his father, who has multiple wives and his brother who has multiple children, Yitzchak remains faithful to Rivkah through 20 years of childlessness, perhaps holding out a hope that he will save his sole inheritor the bitter sibling rivalry he needed to suffer through, and eventually resolve, with Yishmael. Twins was not in the plans- but, behold! Yitzchak’s hopes for simplicity are dashed by God’s plan for complexity. His reaction? He simply chooses the firstborn, and pushes Yaakov to the sidelines, marginalizing him beginning with the name he gives him- the heel. Ironically, Yitzchak’s attitude prevents him from recognizing his natural affinity with Yaakov, who is also a ‘simple man’, and pushes Yaakov to overcome his natural innocence and to give new meaning to his name by acting subersively to win the birthright. If Yitzchak isn’t ready for the complexity that comes with recognizing the value of each brother in his own right, then it will be embodied within the paradoxical personality of Yaakov himself, the man of truth who is always lying. A simple legacy is just not meant to be the lot of the Jewish people.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.