Rebecca became pregnant. The children struggled within her. She said, “If this is the case, why should I exist?” She went to inquire of God. God said to her, “Two nations are in your womb…and one people shall be mightier than the other.” Genesis 25:21-23
As I read this passage, I’m reminded of my own experience. During my first pregnancy I felt quite ill, and H. was as wild in the womb as she is now. At times, my consciousness seemed to shrink to a single existential mantra, “We’re alive.”
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809) – who was never pregnant – also saw himself in this passage. He was reminded of his inner struggles, existential questions, and gleanings from spiritual counseling. Rebecca, he said, was stressed by her soul’s inner conversation – particularly by the thoughts and feelings she most disliked. When they arose, she would think, “I’m so awful, I don’t deserve to live.”
Wisely (said Levi Yitzchak), Rebecca visited a spiritual counselor, who said, “You are not awful; you are normal. Every human being has at least two inner choruses. Our rabbinic tradition calls these the yetzer hatov, good formation, and yetzer hara, bad formation. You feel the pain of struggle because you are actively working on your formation. Do not worry! The good will be mightier than the bad.”
Levi Yitzchak’s words bring me comfort, too. Sometimes I struggle with deep feelings of hurt, which my conscious mind cannot moderate. Levi Yitzchak reminds me: while you are working, the hurt may feel more intense. Take it as a message of hope.
For more perspectives on Parshat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9) click here.