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Parshas Toldos (5772)

Rebecca: A True Jewish Mother

We are all familiar with the “Jewish Mother” stereotype. You know… the nagging, overprotective, manipulative, controlling, smothering, and overbearing woman, who persists in interfering in her children's lives long after they have become adults.

Your typical Jewish Mother is the kind of woman from whom you are likely to never hear the following lines:
~ “Just live with him.. you don't have to marry him.. I don't need any grandchildren.”
~ “Be good and for your birthday I'll buy you a motorcycle!”
~ “How on earth can you see the TV, sitting so far back?”
~ “Don't bother wearing a jacket - it's quite warm out.”
~ “I think a cluttered bedroom is a sign of creativity.”
~ “Yeah, I used to skip school, too.”
~ “Just leave all the lights on - it makes the house more cheery.”
~ “Could you please turn the music up louder, so that I can enjoy it, too?”
~ “I don't have a tissue with me - just use your sleeve.”
~ “If she wants you both to move back east to live near her family - it's fine with me.”
~ “Mother's day, Shmother's Day - you just go to the beach and enjoy yourselves.”
~ “You don't have to call me every week - I know how busy you are.”
~ “Your father is a saint - you should only be just like him.”
~ “You are so lucky to have your in-laws.”
~ “Your wife knows best - forget about the advice I gave you.”

Well, wouldn’t you know it? There is a famous Jewish Mother mentioned in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Toldos, who seems to break the stereotype and say something we would think a Jewish mother would never say.

As the Torah tells us: “Isaac entreated G-d opposite his wife, because she was barren. G-d allowed Himself to be entreated by him, and his wife Rebecca conceived. The children agitated within her, and she said, ‘If so, why am I thus?’ And she went to inquire of G-d. And G-d said to her: Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated ….” (Genesis 25:21-23). And Rashi explains that Rebecca was saying: “If so, that the pain of pregnancy is great, why is it that I am desiring and praying for pregnancy?”

Imagine that! Our matriarch Rebecca who, as our Sages teach us, hasn’t been able to conceive for ten years, and then, when she finally gets pregnant, she starts to feel some pain in her stomach and she regrets her ever trying to conceive in the first place?! This is a Jewish Mother?

To answer this question we need to understand the nature of the “agitation” that was taking place inside Rebecca’s womb at that time. Rashi quotes a Midrash which explains that when Rebecca would pass by entrances of places of Torah study of Shem and Eber (two great rabbis who ran an academy of Torah learning), Jacob would run and toss about, trying to go out of his mother’s womb. And when she would pass by entrances of places of idol worship, Esau would toss about to try to go out.

Many Bible commentators explain that as Rebecca was a prophetess, she knew that she was destined to become the mother of the Jewish nation. So that her desire for a child was not fueled solely by a personal need to have a baby, but rather by an understanding that this child would one day be a “founding father” of the Jewish people. And when she felt agitation inside her womb at places of Torah study and idolatry, she thought this meant that the child inside her would one day spend part of his time seriously studying Torah, but would also pursue all types of forbidden and “idolatrous” activities in his spare time. And that would render all his Torah study utterly meaningless, since it didn’t translate into his becoming a spiritually elevated person.

Rebecca thus said to herself: “If so, that the child I am to bring into this world as one of the founders of the future Jewish nation will become such a hypocrite, then why did I bother to pray to G-d to get pregnant in the first place?”

The answer G-d gave her was that she had not one, but two children inside her womb – and one of them, Jacob, would one day immerse himself in Torah study and become a true tzaddik (righteous person) and a patriarch of the Jewish people, while the other one, Esau, would grow up pursuing idolatry and other forbidden things and would become a rasha, a wicked person. Upon hearing this, Rebecca was comforted in knowing that her many prayers to conceive a child were worth it in the end, despite the pain and agitation she was feeling, seeing that she would have a major role in founding this great Jewish nation through at least one of her children.

I believe that through the story of Rebecca and her agitating twins, the Torah is teaching all of us an important lesson in what it means to be a true Jewish Mother. Rebecca understood that far more important than making sure that her son zips up his coat before he goes out so that he doesn’t catch a cold, or that he finishes his vegetables, or that he doesn’t sit too close to the TV, etc. etc., her primary role as a Jewish mother is to raise a child who will one day “found” the Jewish nation and change the world through the teaching and dissemination of G-d’s Torah.

Now, to be sure, not every Jewish mother is a prophetess like Rebecca, and the Jewish nation has already been founded, so that we no longer have the opportunity of raising a child who will become the patriarch of our nation, yet we need to realize that each and every child we bring into this world is not there merely for us to use as a “plaything” that we can dress up in all the cutest outfits. Nor is the child there just to fulfill our legacy by becoming the doctor or lawyer or rabbi that we never became.

More important than all that, each new child that we create is yet another brick in the edifice that is the Jewish nation. Each child will one day grow up to represent Judaism and what it means to be Jewish to the rest of the world. And this is a serious task that can only be fulfilled if we raise the child properly; making sure that he studies Torah and doesn’t engage in any “idolatrous” and forbidden things. This way, the child will continue the beautiful legacy that began over 3500 years ago with Rebecca’s pregnancy, and which has been lighting up the world with G-d’s Torah ever since.

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