We descend from her. We would be nothing without her. To this day we remember her, though probably not as often as we should. She is the one, the only: Rivka (Rebekah). As Jews we call ourselves b’nei Yisrael (children of Israel), but whenever I read this week’s Torah portion, parashat Toldot, I feel the need to cry out that we are here because of Rivka. Should we not call ourselves (even if just for this week) b’nei Rivka?!
This Torah portion has it all: trickery, betrayal, rivalry, prophecy, eavesdropping, trading soup for birthright, and what I would argue is the catalyst of our becoming a peoplehood. And for that we have Rivka to thank. She does a great deal of behind the scenes work in this portion, but I’d like to focus on one word in particular לִדְרוֹשׁ (lee-drosh).
Isaac, our patriarch and the husband of Rebekah, loves his wife. He prays extensively for Rebekah to become pregnant. When she finally does become pregnant, she feels a struggle beginning in her womb. Her first instinct, according to the Torah text, was (1)“`לִדְרוֹשׁ אֶת ה.”
What does that even mean? Maybe it means she goes “to inquire of the Lord” (2). That would make sense, as this was a verb often used when someone went to see an oracle (3). Maybe she goes to “question God.” That has a little more chutzpah (audacity) to it. Maybe it’s a simple question of “why am I experiencing this struggle in my pregnancy?” Perhaps no one can give her answers to her questions about her pregnancy, and she wants guidance (4). Perhaps she does not know she is going to have twins. If that is the case, how could she possibly be expected to understand why this pregnancy is so difficult?
But another translation of this verb is “to demand [of God].” (5) I am inclined to consider the legitimacy of this translation. It certainly suggests the most amount of chutzpah of all the translations thus far. The question Rebekah asks in this very same verse makes me think that this may be more existential than “what is going on inside of me,” and rather it is asking “why is this me?” Perhaps she has a sense of something bigger than herself that is taking place in her womb. She already has faith that something grand is in store for her.
Rebekah receives an oddly cryptic prophecy from God. Somehow, two nations will emerge from her womb, one will triumph the other, and the older shall serve the younger. At least this is how she interprets it. To her it means that her younger son, Jacob, is chosen by God. From the very beginning, despite Isaac’s bias for Esau, Rebekah is steadfast in her love for Jacob for no clearly stated reason other than the information we are given in this prophecy.
It should have been enough that she favored her son, Jacob, like the prophecy said. But Rebekah was committed to her faith. She was so committed to it, that she had to act on it. She could not extract herself from the equation. She had demanded this information, and now that she had it in her grasp, she was going to do something about it.
So, she eavesdrops on her family, plans to trick her husband and steal from her eldest son, and executes her scheme to ensure that Jacob, the one whom she knew to be the great nation because of the prophecy, will receive the blessing from his father. She even does so under threat of curse (6)! She bets on everything that is dear to her to rely on her faith. If that is not chutzpah, I am not sure what is.
Rebekah forged a path not only for her son, but for her future people. Her faith and willingness to intervene by any means necessary demonstrates just how powerful she is as a character in this family and as a founder of our peoplehood. She started off this story with the act of לִדְרוֹשׁ (lee-drosh), of demanding. Once she has the information she so boldly demanded, she does not simply sit with it. Rather, she puts her faith into action, making it her life’s work. As her descendants, we are a people for whom faith is important, but our deeds may be even more so. We are commanded to act, study, and pray with intention. Faith is important, but what we do with it is even more telling. May we all have the chutzpah to demand something of our faith and act upon our it in ways that help us live lives of integrity. May we all act as though we are really b’nei Rivka.
Julia Berg (she/her) is a rabbinic/education student on the Los Angeles campus. She currently works as the education intern at Leo Baeck Temple. She is currently working on a curriculum guide that aims to help teens create a lasting relationship with Torah.
(1) Genesis 25:22
(2) JPS translation of Genesis 25:22
(3) Cohn-Eskenazi, Tamara, and Andrea L. Weiss. 2008. The Torah: A Women's Commentary (New York, NY: Reform Judaism Publishing, p.136)
(4) Ibn Ezra on 25:22
(5) BDB s.v. “דרש” (6) Genesis 27:14