Rebekah's Spiritual Crisis

Like Rebekah, we should turn toward God, not away, in our moments of spiritual crisis.

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This is supported by the following inquiry she makes of God. She simply sought an explanation of what was going on in her body, and she came to realize that only God, the One who blessed her with this miraculous pregnancy, could provide the answer.

But Ramban (Moses Ben Nachman) describes Rebekah's anguish as reflecting a much more existential anxiety. He translates Rebekah's words as a challenge to her very existence in the world: "If it be so, why do I live?"

Like Moses who exhorts God to let him die rather then put up further with the complaints of the Children of Israel (Numbers 11:15) and Job whose unending despair compels him to exclaim, "I should have been as though I had not been!" (Job 10:19), Rebekah reaches the point where she simply can no longer cope. She questions the very purpose of her existence. And, in doing so, she questions God's plan for her as well. She recognizes that her current situation is a result of divine providence. What she doesn't understand is why. And so she decides to go straight to the source. She goes to inquire of God.

A crisis of faith is always a challenge for the person whose faith has been rocked. For our Biblical ancestors, expressing doubt in God could often result in dire consequences, leading them to question the very purpose of their being. In a world where the secular and the spiritual were inseparable, physical death seemed like a viable alternative to spiritual angst.

Today, it is not the death of body we fear when we struggle with faith, but the threat of spiritual death is very real. And it is here that we can follow the model of Rebekah who seeks solace by turning to God.

The text uses the word L'drosh, "to inquire," but more literally "to challenge" or "to struggle" with God to discover her fate. Rather than turning away from God, Rebekah turns to God, but to challenge God; to find meaning out of her anguish. Rebekah does not turn away, asking, "Why is God doing this to me?'" but rather she turns to God, asking, "What is the meaning of this experience?" Though her words be jumbled, her actions speak louder. It is the authentic Jewish act; to struggle with God.

Davar Aher

What was the nature of the Jacob and Esau's in utero struggle? The midrash (Genesis Rabbah 63:6) indicates the boys were very precocious:

And The Children Struggled Together Within Her. They sought to run within her. When she [Rebekah] stood near synagogues or schools, Jacob struggled to come out; hence it is written, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee (Jeremiah 1:5). While when she passed idolatrous temples, Esau eagerly struggled to come out; hence it is written, The wicked are estranged from the womb (Psalm 58:4).

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Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen

Jordan D. Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of KOLEL - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Prior to his return to Canada, Rabbi Cohen served as Rabbi of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, and Associate Rabbi of the North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.