After years of struggling with infertility, Rebecca was blessed with a viable pregnancy. It came, however, with unusual pain, and the Torah tells us that she felt driven to seek out divine guidance.
It was then that she received the prophecy that gave her insight that would change the trajectory of her family’s destiny: “Two nations are in thy womb,” informing her that one of the twins that she would bear would leave the covenant of their family.
The classical commentaries are intrigued by the conduit by which Rebecca received this message, which the Torah conceals behind the elusive phrase, “And she went to inquire of Hashem.”
Rashi (R. Shlomo ben Yitzchak, France 1040-1106) cites a midrashic tradition that Rebecca has sought out Shem, the survivor of the Great Flood who has taught the traditions of Noah for generations, and it was he who told her of the struggle to come between Esau and Jacob.
Radak (R. David Kimchi, Provence 1160-1235), though, is puzzled by this and wonders why Rebecca would have journeyed so far afield when a prophet, perhaps even greater then Shem, was a choice ostensibly much more accessible: her father-in-law, our Father Abraham.
With great insight into human character, Maharal (R. Yehuda Loew, 16th-century Central Europe) explains why Rebecca would have preferred to travel rather than consult with her father-in-law.
Rebecca, Maharal suggests, was wracked with guilt over the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy: Perhaps, somehow the pain she experienced was her fault. After all, while her husband had been reared in the exalted atmosphere of the household of Abraham and Sarah, she was the product of an idolatrous foreign home and somehow was undeserving of God’s favor.
Terrified that revealing the secret of her difficult circumstances to Abraham would lead to losing his respect and that, perhaps, he would even advise Isaac that the match had been a mistake, she preferred to maintain her privacy and seek out Shem instead.
I have no doubt that had Abraham and Isaac been aware of Rebecca’s pain and God’s explanation, they would have supported Rebecca wholeheartedly and raised the boys appropriately in light of the prophecy. Instead, Rebecca felt she needed to bear her burden alone and in silence. Tragically.
Isaac, unaware of the vision bequeathed to Rebecca, was unable to discern Esau’s character and destiny, and hence the stage was set for the terrible conflict that would rip apart their family.
The Maharal’s understanding of Rebecca’s state of mind, while couched in the exalted level of the Matriarch, is eerily familiar. How often has the fear of stigma — whether of physical or mental illness, abuse or addictions — prevented people from seeking out needed support from their loved ones, and the atmosphere of secrecy created added a strain to a relationship at the very moments where friends and family are so critical in overcoming life’s challenges?
It is so critical to cultivate an atmosphere of trust, where we can be a safe place for those in our lives to navigate life’s challenges, rather than force them into concealing their struggles. PJC
Rabbi Daniel Yolkut is the spiritual leader of Congregation Poale Zedeck. This column is a service of Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.