1) Rivka’s Pain in Pregnancy
Rivka was pregnant with twins in her stomach and she was very confused by what was going on as we know from Rashi. There was a lot of kicking and banging by the churches, which we know was Eisav and Yaakov was trying to get out to the batei midrashim. The pasuk says (Bereishis 25:22), “Im kein lama zeh anochi.” Rivka asks why do I have to go through this. “Vatelech lidrosh es Hashem”, and she went to go seek Hashem.
Rashi brings down that “im kein, if so” means, ‘if being pregnant is so painful why did I daven for this? Ramban says that pshat is “ikur chaser min hasefer.” It doesn’t say that in the pasuk. He does not accept that interpretation.
Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra says Rivka consulted with her friends. She asked the other women, and asked them: Have you ever had such pain like this when you were pregnant? This is just not normal. “Lamah zeh anochi?” means: Why is this happening to me in such a strange way that you other people have not experienced. Ramban says that this is not really explicit in the pasuk.
Ramban therefore translates it as: Im kein, if I have this much pain, lamah zeh anochi, why am I even alive. This is causing me so much pain, I feel like I would be better off not here.
How do we understand this? When we think about what the Ramban is saying, does he mean to say that one of the imahos, Rivka, was saying that? How could she say that? Now, the first thing is that we have to understand that when people are in pain, “ein adam nitfas al tzaro”. A person is not held responsible for things that they say.
But, when we think about it a little bit deeper, and we put all these peirushim together, what was really being said was, we know that in the gemara in Berachos 31b, Chana says to Hashem: Rebono Shel Olam, I have been unable to concieve and have children. What’s the point? You gave me a body. I want to be able to use it for Torah and mitzvos. For bringing children into this world for doing great things. So, if I only exist to serve you, and I’m not fulfilling that purpose, then how could you just leave me like this and not allow me to fulfill that purpose. And, we know that this was a very big taanah, and in that zechus she actually had Shmuel haNavi, her son. And, so the precedent for this is probably what’s going on here. Rivka was saying: Rebono Shel Olam, I want to serve you. But, if I have a son or a child in there who’s interested in avodah zarah, there’s no purpose in living for that. That’s not why you created me. You didn’t create me to bring a destructive and negative force into this world.
2) Rivka’s Prayer
If you think about it’s interesting because the Ramban says: vateilech lidrosh es Hashem, the pashut pshat is not that she went to Sheim and Eiver to ask a question, like Rashi says, but that it means, like the Ramban says that dreishah etzel Hashem, when we turn to Hashem that means tefillah. It always means to daven. This was her prayer that she had between her and G-d. And, when we think about it, “lamah zeh anochi”, all the mefarshim, Rashi, Ibn Ezra and the Ramban are all explaining Rivka’s essence. Rashi was saying: There was so much pain; why did I daven? “Anochi” is why did I invest my heart and soul into davening in order to get pregnant. Well, the answer is: I daven so I should have a healthy child, and a spiritually healthy child, and a growth oriented child. And, so that’s what Rashi’s reading in the pasuk. And, the Ibn Ezra is saying: This is a different pregnancy than all other pregnancies, and so, again, “lamah zeh anochi”. Hashem why are you making this different? And, the Ramban ties it all together, and says: Rebono Shel Olam why do I exist if I’m not bringing an oveid Hashem into this world for You because that is my entire desire.
3) Yitzchak’s Blessings
Vayivez Esav es habechorah (Bereishis 25:34), Esav insulted the first born right. Ramban here has many fascinating comments about the relationship between Yitzchak and Eisav and how to understand the dynamic, and why Yitzchak fell for Eisav and whether he was fooled by him or he didn’t understand.
Ramban writes that, of course, a father loves his first born child, and it’s pretty natural and understandable, and that Yitzchak felt that Esav was being scrupulous in his speech and not using Sheim Shamayim, because it was an extra chumra that he didn’t want to say Hashem’s name in a place that might be dirty or inappropriate.
Yitzchak asks for Esav to bring him food so that he can give him a blessing. Ramban explains two fascinating things. Yitzchak wanted to be neheneh from the one that he was giving a bracha to because when you bring me the food, I want to be able to feel an elation in my body, and so then I will have a more generous spirit, and be able to give you some of that blessing. When I eat it brings me a simcha and it inspires me and I’m going to get my ruach hakodesh which I need in order to give you a bracha b’nevuah. “Vehayah kemenagein hamenagein”, like the pasuk says in Melachim that when the person played the instrument, then the Navi was able to have Nevuah because music makes a person happy.
Making a Kiddush
Rav Shimshon Pinchus zt”l once explained based on this Ramban that one of the sources for a kiddush, when we make a kiddush for anything, any celebration, especially for a daughter or a child that is born, is that people will come, and they will be neheneh, they’ll eat, and, of course, the zechus of the berachos that they make on the food will stand for the child, but also that they will be able to feel good and the body will be stimulated so that the mind and the spirit could be stimulated as well and they could give an even more willing and more generous bracha.
4) Avos Kept Torah in Eretz Yisrael
Ramban (Bereishis 26:5) asks: How could the Avos do things that seem like they were not keeping the Torah? For example, Yitzchak put up a matzeivah, which is something that the Torah prohibited. Yaakov married two sisters which the Torah prohibits, so how could he do this? Ramban explains that the Avos kept the entire Torah like “me she’eino metzuveh v’oseh.” Hashem never commanded them to keep it, but they elected to keep it. When they were in Chutz Laaretz they did not keep the Torah and the mitzvos fully. Ramban explains that one of the reasons that Rachel died on the way from Chutz Laaretz back to Eretz Yisrael was because when they were to arrive in Eretz Yisrael Yaakov couldn’t be married to two sisters anymore because that’s where they elected to keep all the Torah and the mitzvos.
Means Justified End
Nefesh HaChaim elaborates on this concept and explains more clearly based on Ramban and other Rishonim. When it came to the Avos, the ends did justify the means. If there was a spiritual/kabbalistic reason that they saw that it made sense for them to not keep the Torah and they were in Chutz Laaretz, then they were able to take that allowance.
5) Rivka Didn’t Tell Yitzchak about Eisav
Ramban (Bereishis 27:4) asks: Why didn’t Rivka just tell Yitzchak, her husband, that Eisav is an evil son and Yaakov is the correct son that you need to bless and he’s the tzaddik? Ramban says that Rivka had found out that message al pi nevuah when she was “vateilech lidrosh es Hashem”, and the Ramban writes a couple of fascinating things. It was “derech mussar and tznius”. Ramban says that when Rivka originally went to ask Sheim this question, when she went to be “vateilech lidrosh es Hashem”, to seek out Hashem. She went to Sheim to ask him what was going on, and the Ramban says that she went without the permission of Yitzchak which is a very interesting comment. We have to ask ourselves: why did she do that? And, if we think about it, it could be that she felt that she didn’t want to tell Yitzchak about the confusion that was going on inside of her. Maybe she felt like she was to blame because of her family background. We’re not here to psychoanalyze the Avos and the Imahos and Chazal don’t tell us any criticism about it.
Communication Dynamic Between Rivka and Yitzchak
We know that the Netziv has his comments here as well as Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch about the relationship dynamic between Rivka and Yitzchok. The Netziv on the pasuk “vatipol mei’al hagamal”, the original meeting between Yitzchak and Rivka was with one of fear. Whereas we find that Sarah and Rachel were both comfortable with sparing with or going back and forth with Avraham and Yaakov, respectively. Rivka was always silent and there was, perhaps, some element of fear there that was never really overcome. Some of this can be part of the intent of Ramban’s comments here.
If Hashem wanted Yitzchak to Know
Ramban offers another pshat and says that another calculation that Rivka might have had is that she said: Yitzchok is also a Navi and if Hashem wanted him to know then I’m sure that he would have told him as well. Additionally, the third pshat that the Ramban seems to focus on is that Rivka was a tremendous maamin in Hashem and she said: I’m going to let it run its own course. If I say to Yitzchak: You need to bless Yaakov then he might not listen because I know that he loves Eisav and is focused on him, I will let Hashem run the show while still doing our hishtadlus. What ended up happening is that Yitzchak was able to give a full-hearted blessing, thinking that he was giving the blessing to Eisav, when, in fact, he was giving it to Yaakov, and so there is a certain benefit that way that Hashem orchestrated it that way. Rivka said: Hashem runs the show, and I have bitachon that Hashem will allow it to run.
Yosef’s Hishtadlus Vs. Rivka’s Hishtadlus
In Parshas Mikeitz Yosef was punished for asking the Sar HaMashkim, the butler to remember him. What did he do wrong, that was his hishtadlus to get out of jail? The Midrash answers this clearly. Yosef did the right thing in telling the butler to remember him, that was normal and acceptable hishtadlus. However, when you do hishtadlus, in your heart you have to know that Hashem is the only one Who delivers. The criticism against Yosef was that instead of focusing totally on Hashem and saying: Okay, this is a shaliach of Hashem, there was some element of focusing on this person, and that’s why the Midrash quotes the pasuk that says, “Ashrei hagever asher sam Hashem mivtacho, v’lo pana el rehavim v’shatei kazav (Tehillim 40:5).” Praiseworthy is the man that relies totally on Hashem. He puts his reliance on Hashem, and doesn’t turn to false and worthless sources. Rivka, on the other hand, used balanced hishtadlus. In her heart she knew is only Hashem who runs the world and that was the entire hishtadlus that she was doing. I know that the Rebono Shel Olam is going to orchestrate the events as need, and it’s going to work out the exact way that He wants and I simply will do my part.
Yaakov Demonstrated Worthiness
There was a certain element that Yaakov had to show his father that he was crafty and he wasn’t only an ish tam, and he was actually able to be worldly as well, and to be able to steal the berachos which is what, according to some mefarshim, actually convinced Yitzchak that “gam baruch yihyeh,” he should be blessed. I had thought that Yaakov was not able to interact with the world, and that Eisav would have to do it for him, and he would the Zevulun and Yaakov would be the Yissachar, but I see that Yaakov could do both. Yaakov could live in both worlds and thus deserves the material success blessings as well as the spiritual ones.
6) Tzaddikim Techilasam Yesurrim V’sofam Shalva
The last thought is very dear to my heart. Ramban (Bereishis 27:28) brings this pasuk where it says, “Arurcha arur Umevarechecha baruch.” People that curse you will be cursed and those that bless you will be blessed.” Why is curse mentioned first, whereas by Bilam it’s the exact opposite, “mevarcheich baruch varurcha arur, those that bless you will be blessed and those that curse you will be cursed.” Why is blessing put first there?
Ramban explains that tzaddikim begin with yissurim and end with shalva unlike rishaim who live it up here in this world and then have eternal pain. When talking about Yaakov the order is arur first, the curses that he gets in life and the pain and trouble that he gets in life. Those comes first. “Tichilasam yesurrim.” Life starts with challenges, but “sofam shalva”. At the end, in Olam HaBah, and the resolution and the emunah and bitachon in Hashem, they get blessings. By the rashaim, like Bilam, you have “mevarechicha baruch”. The blessings come first. He lives it up in this world, but the end it’s “arurcha arur” only curses.
Avraham’s Unique Blessing
The one question that the Ramban asks is: According to my pshat, what about by Avraham? It says the blessing first: “va’avarcha mivarechicha u’mikalelcha arur. Ramban says that this is not a kasha because after that phrase it adds one more: “venivrichu bicha, they will bless others with you” So, therefore, it ends up that there’s a bracha at the beginning and at the end, with curse in the middle. Thus signifying that after the curse, troubles in this world, comes blessings in the next.
I would like to explain the Ramban further as he did not fully answer why there is a blessing appearing first before the regular “curse then blessing” tzaddik formula. Perhaps the pshat is that even when the tzaddik goes through life and has these yessurin and challenges in life, the arurs of life, the curses and the challenges that Hashem sends his way, he has a deep understanding that all is for the best, that they are really blessings in disguise. We find by Dovid HaMelech. “Hashem amar lo kalel es Dovid.” Hashem told Shimi to curse me. Those curses and challenges in life come with a recognition, though they cause me pain, I know that Hashem has a plan and that no person can hurt or benefit me without Hashem’s allowance and those who seem to be hurting me on the outside are just a fascade and are just messengers of Hashem’s infinitely loving plan.
The tzaddik acknowledges his pain, but also knows in his heart that all is really a blessing from Hashem, to purify and perfect him. So there’s a certain element that really every tzaddik starts off with a focus of bracha. Avraham Avenu’s journey thus really began with blessing, “va’avarcha mivarechicha.” The tzaddik gets that wink from Hashem and knows that he’s on the right path, and then life comes: “umekalelicha arur”. There’s challenges in life that Hashem sends us for Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and for all of us individually. “Bikeish Yaakov leishev bishalva.” There’s no such thing in Olam HaZeh. There’s challenges that make us greater, but at the end it’s “venivrichu bicha”. The ultimate blessing arrives.
Rav Moshe’s Escape
Rav Moshe Feinstein was stuck in the Soviet Union, and his family was trying to get out. This story occurred right before they escaped. Rav Moshe had to slip into Moscow and was trying to do behind the scenes actions to be able to get his family out which, ultimately, he did, and there was one day when he was very, very involved with his mission and he got back very late, but he said to himself: I need to learn Torah. He sat down to study in a local beis medrash, and he became so engrossed in his learning that it was way past midnight. When he looked up at the sefer, he realized that he couldn’t go back to the household that he was boarding at because he was afraid he was going to wake someone. So out of consideration for his hosts he stayed in the shul learning for the rest of the night.
The next morning he was greeted with incredible news. In the middle of the night the secret police had raided all the homes because they had heard that there were illegal immigrants who had been in the city, and by the fact that he didn’t return to his lodging, he had escaped this discovery and arrest, and, ultimately, he ended up escaping.
The lessons in this story are many, but for our topic we see how a tzarah of not being able to go sleep in a bed ended up being a yeshuah that saved him. So too, when we have challenges in life, we know that Hashem is orchestrating the world in the way that is for our best.
We know the story of Rabbi Akiva in Taanis where, again, all these bad things happened to him, rooster died and the went out, but, really, all that was happening was that Hashem was saving him so that he shouldn’t be heard and spotted by the enemies who were destroying the city. Even in the yessurim that the tzaddikim have they recognize that there’s a baruch, that the Rebono Shel Olam is taking care of me, and that’s how we live our life with that emunah that Hashem is taking care of us and that, ultimately, He’s leading us towards blessing in the way that only He can.
Rabbi Yosef Tropper, a shul rabbi and psychotherapist, is the author of Yosef Chane (Shas), Wings of Faith (LevErez.com) and other works. Visit ParshaThemes.com for the podcast and much more