Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author
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Rebecca’s cry of despair

Imagine a world where brother does not fight brother, and mankind is one with God

About a month ago, my son completed his basic training. He is now officially an IDF paratrooper. At the ceremony when he received his red beret, tears were streaming down my face. I looked around me at other friends and relatives of soldiers, who all seemed so, well, happy. I too felt proud of my son for doing his duty despite his own conflicting feelings, and completing this grueling training. But happy I was most certainly not. This was not a college graduation. This was the ceremony marking my son being sent out into a violent conflict that could easily escalate into a full-out war.

Now, as I look through the Torah portion of Toldot, I find Rebecca in a state of despair similar to my own. She felt her twin fetuses fighting in her womb. Fearing the portent of what was to come, she called out: “For this, I exist?” Which through the lens of my current situation, I interpret to mean: For this, humanity exists? For this, we bring new souls into this world? So brother can fight brother?

Rebecca turns to God for some answers. These are God’s children as well. How can God tolerate two brothers who are already at each others’ throats in the womb? And what does God tell Rebecca? Two nations are in your belly, and when they are born, they will separate and one will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.

In other words, this is the way of the world. Brothers fight brothers. But don’t worry. There will be a chosen one, Jacob, who will win out in the end. It seems this brings Rebecca some solace, because she plays along with the system. She is so good, in fact, at playing the system, that her and God’s favored son (Jacob) wins out over Isaac’s (Esau).

But if Rebecca’s original question to God was an outcry against violent conflict, she has not won. In fact, the entire Torah portion gives us more of the same: tribalism, conquering, territoriality, and sacrificing women for the benefit of men.

So I look at the Haftarah for some answers. Malachai asks God for proof of God’s love. To which God answers: Esau is Jacob’s brother, yet I love Jacob more. In other words: Despite the fact that Edom are your cousins, Israel, I destroyed Edom and will never let them prevail. God then goes on to reprimand Israel for not keeping their side of the covenant, for oppressing the vulnerable and practicing empty rituals. But (we read at the end of Malachai) don’t worry. God will send Elijah the Prophet to set the Israelites straight. We are still the chosen ones.

For some, this answer offers solace. Israel will come out on top in the end. We are chosen to do God’s work, and God will help us return to the path. But to me, this sounds like more of the same patriarchal tribalism that has lead us to the dismal state we are in today. As long as each nation sees itself as superior, as the “chosen one,” and is ready to fight to the death to prove it, I am afraid we are never going to get out of this endless cycle of violence.

But what if Rebecca was truly calling out to God for another way? What if Malachai was actually asking not if God loves Israel, but if God loves humanity? What if Malachai was asking God to prove God’s love for all of humanity by modeling for us another way? A way of peace and love, instead of war and hatred.

If we have come to a point in history where we can dare to imagine a world when Man does not rule over Woman, despite God’s curse to Eve in Genesis, can we also dare to imagine a world where brother does not fight brother? Can we dare to imagine a God with a better tactic for conflict resolution than chosen-ness theology?

The answer I would like to propose is an alternative biblical womb to the one where Jacob and Esau battle — the Primordial Divine Watery Womb, where all is ONE, where all is SHALEM (whole), and where all is SHALOM (peace). This is the place where we are all connected, where we are all water, where we are all God.

It is true that from that place of unity, our dualistic, imperfect, shattered world was born. But in the Creation Narrative, at least there is hope. At least there is that womb to which we can return, or strive to aspire, or reconnect. We are told in Genesis 1:9-10, that God commanded the waters to collect (from the root K-V-EH) into pools that God then called the seas. This is what we call today a MIKVEH, a collection of water, in which we are invited to immerse ourselves fully in order to renew our hope (TIKVAH) that one day there can be peace, that one day all of humanity can be connected in a pool of love.

In Jeremiah 14:8, God is called “Mikveh Yisrael,” the mikveh of Israel. I assume Jeremiah meant the God of the Primordial Watery Womb, not the God of Malachai or Toldot, where the only hope for humanity is hierarchy and conquest. Let us all pray that humanity will see the day when God has a better answer for those of us who are not satisfied with God’s answer to Rebecca’s existential dilemma. We are calling out to God in despair and grief: Can’t you do better than that?!

As I left my son’s red beret ceremony, I spotted another woman with watery eyes and a red nose. I asked  her if her son had been in the ceremony. She said yes. We hugged and exchanged business cards. I think I will send this column to her now.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of two spiritual journey memoirs: Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual counselor (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. She is currently working on a novel and a third spiritual memoir, and her latest book, Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: A Guidebook for Couples, is slated for publication in 2019. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.
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