Moving out from behind the Scenes
The opening of this week’s portion, Toldot, should surely have read, These are the generations of Rebecca, rather than or perhaps in addition to those of Isaac. It is pertinent if translated as generations – children, all the more so as outcomes.
Whilst both pleaded to God for children, the Midrash quoted by Rashi, brings a captivating image, interpreting L’nochach ishto of Isaac praying on behalf of Rebecca as facing his wife, – He stood in one corner and prayed whilst she stood in the other corner and prayed (Genesis Rabbah 63:5).
It was Rebecca, alone, however, that in addition to pleading to, made demands, of God, intimated in the extraordinary expression וַתֵּ֖לֶךְ לִדְרֹ֥שׁ אֶת־יְהֹוָֽה׃ She went to seek counsel, inquire of, or demand of God, trying to understand the struggles seemingly occurring in her womb. If you will excuse the play on words, this was a watershed moment of the pregnancy… and the Toldot -all that was to follow. The tragic and almost nebulous figure of Isaac is surpassed by the tenacity of Rebecca from the outset.
In the moving and also anguished description of their first encounters, 24:16; “Isaac brought Rebecca into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took her as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” The commentators offer that Isaac saw signs and was able to recognize his mother’s grace and qualities in Rebecca. I wish to suggest that it was also Rebecca that saw the qualities and perhaps shortcomings of these mother figures of both Sarah and Hagar who almost lost their children, to adopt a different and much more proactive approach. Rebecca was not going to be the mirror image of her mother-in -law! Nor would she stand “from a distance” Mineged, and not intervene in the fate of her children.
In the tragedy of errors that very much depict the final scenes of Isaac’s life, Rebecca is on a mission, the mistaken identity of Esau must be replaced by the mistaken identity to be played by Jacob. This in a sense is a closure of her ‘demands’ of God during her pregnancy, when told that וְרַ֖ב יַעֲבֹ֥ד צָעִֽיר – The older shall serve the younger.
Chizkuni, a French Bible commentator of the 13th century, provides the behind the scenes… “and the older will become subservient to the younger.” This is where the Torah decreed that Jacob, though the younger, will eventually wind up as the senior one of the twins to be born.This was Rebecca’s understanding, her drash. If this is what God decreed, this is what must occur, through the blessings. An alternative approach explains the word רב does not mean: “the senior one,” but simply means “הרבה,” a great deal,” or “for a long time.” The subservience of the younger will (potentially) be long and hard. This too Rebecca wanted to circumvent. There had already been too much suffering of the children, Isaac and Yishmael and now with potential repetition of this calamitous cycle, Rebecca acting from behind the scenes, beckons a just and preferable future.