Rabbi Goldschmidt


Parshat Toldot

As Rivka experienced the crushing pain of a highly abnormal pregnancy, she asked Hashem the following question [1]:

וַיִּתְרֹֽצְצ֤וּ הַבָּנִים֙ בְּקִרְבָּ֔הּ וַתֹּ֣אמֶר אִם־כֵּ֔ן לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה אָנֹ֑כִי וַתֵּ֖לֶךְ לִדְרֹ֥שׁ אֶת־יְ-הֹ-וָֽ-ה׃

But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why is it that I am (like this)?” and She went to inquire of Hashem.

Rashi helps to clarify our verse as follows [2]:

(“the children struggled…”):

“You must admit that this verse calls for a Midrashic interpretation since it (the verse) leaves unexplained what this struggling was about and it states that she exclaimed “If it be so, wherefore did I desire this” (she asked whether this was the normal course of childbearing, feeling that something extraordinary was happening).

Our Holy Rabbis explain that the (first word of this verse) ויתרוצצו has the meaning of “running”, “moving quickly”: whenever she passed by the doors of the Torah (i. e. to the Schools of Shem and Eber):

Yaakov moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth, but whenever she passed by the gate of a pagan temple Esav moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth [3]. Another explanation is: they struggled with one another and quarreled as to how they should divide the two worlds as their inheritance [4]”.

(“And she said”):
“If the pain of pregnancy is so great…”

(“Why is it”)
“That I longed and prayed to become pregnant?” [5].

(“And she went to enquire”)
“At the school of Shem” [6]

Incredibly the Baal Haturim [7] points out that the word “to enquire” (לִדְרֹ֥שׁ) has the same Gematria (numerical equivalent) as:
“מן שם בן נח” – from “Shem the son of Noach”!

Later [8] when Esav famously sold his birth right to Yaakov Avinu, Rashi informs us that the sale was performed on red lentil stew as this was:

“Red lentils: (because) On that day Abraham had died…”

Although the death of Avraham was mentioned in the previous Parsha (Chayei Sarah): We have a tradition that there is no chronological order in the Torah (אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה) –

It so happens that a variety of commentators agree and disagree with this idea, famously:

Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Torah Temima regularly use the phrase whereas the Rambam (Maimonides) and Ramban (Nachmanides) hold that as a general rule the Torah is written in a chronological order – the accepted source for the idea is the Talmud [9] as well as in Mekhilta and the Sifre on Bamidbar/Numbers.

A question arises:

If, according to those who hold that there is no chronological order to the Torah and Abraham had not yet passed on to his eternal reward until later in the narrative – why did Rivka seek the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber (who were prophets and Tzaddikim in their own right) rather than Abraham her father-in-law? Who according to the Derech Hashem (of Rabbi Chaim Luzzato) [10]:

“…Adam and his children had fallen as a result of their sin, not a single one had risen above it all, there was, however one exception, and that was Abraham. He had succeeded in elevating himself, and because of his deeds was chosen by Hashem”.

However, if you prefer to follow the commentators that understand that the Torah is written in a chronological order, why not enquire from her husband Yitzhak who was also on exalted level of prophesy and connection with Hashem? – either way the question stands.

The Torah that Abraham brought into the world was one of “oneness” – absolute monism [11] – all things being as equally singular and interconnected as the Creator who fashioned them.

Rivka was experiencing the very opposite of this experience – a singular pregnancy that had all the characteristics of plurality; drawn seemingly equally after Monotheism as it was after Polytheism!

Such an experience was the only one that Abraham, in his smashing of his father’s idols and rejection of the gods of Mesopotamia could not endure; the only element not included in his Torah of oneness that he taught to his children as his heritage was the acceptance of multiple gods – how could it be that his grandchild in the womb was drawn equally after both?

The decision that Rivka made was to enquire at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever: Abraham had come to the recognition of one true G-d through his own reasoning, unlike Shem and Eber who “learned about G-d from their own ancestors [12] – Shem and Ebers Torah was that which had survived the flood, a Torah which had stood the test of plurality and the generation of the Flood.

The secret revealed to her was that although she experienced a singular pregnancy, the reason for the issues she experienced were not singular [13] :

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה לָ֗הּ שְׁנֵ֤י גוֹיִם֙ בְּבִטְנֵ֔ךְ וּשְׁנֵ֣י לְאֻמִּ֔ים מִמֵּעַ֖יִךְ יִפָּרֵ֑דוּ וּלְאֹם֙ מִלְאֹ֣ם יֶֽאֱמָ֔ץ וְרַ֖ב יַעֲבֹ֥ד צָעִֽיר׃

And Hashem answered her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two separate peoples shall issue from your body.
One people shall be mightier than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”

The lesson we can perhaps learn from this relates to our experience, our Holy Torah as we have received it speaks to us in profound lessons of morality, inspiration, kindness and is the foundation of the legal justice system – it speaks nonetheless of a world that has now passed, namely its historical context of the Iron Age:

It is my belief that looking fearlessly into the past with the tools we have today of history, archeology and understanding the context of our sacred Torah reveals only further depth and clarity:

In much the same way that Rivka looked back into the teachings of the world before the flood, not because she lacked access to those who perceived the Truth of the Oneness of Hashem, but precisely because the world she experienced lacked a clarity that mirrored the excellence of that truth.

We live in a generation of data and information and without context and meaning we are programmed to scroll onwards to that which captures our interest: the secret of Torah is to take ideas that may or may not immediately resonate with us or seem disconnected from our reality and find a mechanism to absorb them and make them personally important to us.

Sometimes that means reaching for sources beyond the traditional but more often the depth of the lesson is right before us if we choose to read and to listen: Regardless of however the world looks or whatever age we find ourselves within, the examples of righteous faith, honestly, hard work and dedication remain timeless as does the continuous search for Truth.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2022 ©



[1] Bereshit/Genesis: 25:22

[2] On this verse (25:22)

[3] Genesis Rabbah 63:6

[4] Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 111:2

[5] Genesis Rabbah 63:6

[6] Ibid.

[7] On this verse (25:22)

[8] Bereshit/Genesis: 25:29

[9] Jerusalem Talmud: Megillah 7a

[10] II. Providence: 4:Israel and the Nations: 3

[11] Monism is defined as the theory or doctrine that denies the existence of a distinction or duality in some sphere, such as that between matter and mind, or God and the world: The doctrine that only one supreme being exists at all whatsoever.

[12] Rambam Mishneh Torah: Hilchot Avodah Zarah: Chapters 1-3

[13] Bereshit/Genesis: 25:23