Rivka Imeinu realizes this disturbing situation means something, but she isn’t sure what.
We know that Chazal presents us with several layers of meaning regarding what was going on here, but now we’re going to focus on what the Kli Yakar says about it.
He says that Rivka Imeinu did not realize that she was carrying twins, but feared that it was one child who was equally attracted to both belief systems. When she asked, “Why is this happening to me?”, the Kli Yakar says she meant: “I am just like the other idol-worshipping women [who will produce an idol-worshipper]! In that case, how am I better than them if, chas v’shalom, there are two Authorities?” (Meaning that their idol possesses equal power to Hashem, chas v’shalom.) "Therefore, 'she went to seek out Hashem' – meaning, to investigate God’s existence."
This is a shocking statement about Rivka Imeinu who, despite having grown up among the most repulsive and leading occultists of that time, clung to monotheism and core Jewish values and exemplified emuna and attachment to Hashem to the point that she achieved ruach hakodesh.
Of course, some Sages say that she went to ask Shem and Ever about this and some say she asked Hashem directly. The Kli Yakar maintains that she communed directly with Hashem, Who replied: “It is the opposite of what you think. There is just One Authority. Really, there are two children in your womb – one will be a servant of Hashem and one will be an idol-worshipper – and God has always been One and there is no other authority besides Him.”
The important thing to note here is that when Rivka Imeinu had doubts, she went straight to the Source. She did not make a whole big “objective” study of the opposing belief system for comparison. Whether you go with the sources that say she asked the greatest Sages of her generation or whether you go with the sources that say she accessed Hashem directly on her own, she still took her question to the True Source.
What Not to Do
Due to having been under the yoke of Christian influence for centuries, even frum people may believe that such basic questioning denotes heresy. According to the Kli Yakar’s interpretation of Rivka Imeinu’s example, it clearly doesn’t.
When people face disturbing situations in life, they often surrender to one of two harmful options:
- They question God’s Existence/Goodness/Involvement and decide that they need to investigate outside sources (which actually understand and explain very little, relatively speaking), which then often leads to a slide in their emuna and Torah observance or even to outright atheism.
- They repress their feelings and thoughts, which lead to a kind of dissociative state, cognitive dissonance, and a Torah observance which, rather than being vibrant and rich with joy and meaning, becomes superficial and “plastic.”
But really, we are supposed to take our distress, our doubts, and all of our issues directly to Hashem. We don’t need to feel guilty or bad when we run up against a wall because the situation that led to a crisis of faith (or whatever) in the first place is also from Hashem.
Struggle is an inherent part of spiritual growth.
If you don't wrestle with your issues, you won't grow and you won't achieve the potential for which Hashem put you here.
(Although we needn’t necessarily share this struggle with others because many people have not worked out their own issues and will be judgmental and otherwise unhelpful. It depends on who you speak with.)
But first, you need to be able to acknowledge that you have the issue.
It’s interesting (and tragic) that when many people first wrestle with their issues, they ruminate about it in their minds – sometimes delving further into Torah study and mitzvah observance in order to escape their discomfiting thoughts and feelings – and consult with someone else (who is often not entirely helpful), and then start investigating outside sources, often “testing” Hashem by transgressing some core mitzvah to see whether they’ll be struck with lightening or something (generally, they won’t be).
What they usually don’t do is turn directly to Hashem and discuss it with Him using the same amount of time and energy they invest in dealing with it via the other methods.
(Note: I am not belittling in any way Torah learning or mitzvoth as a way of dealing with spiritual angst, but sometimes they’re used as escape or repression when, really, Hashem is throwing a curve ball in order to bring you closer to Him in a very personal and intimate way.)
The Ideal Way to Lead an Examined Life
In Rebbe Nachman’s story of The Cripple, the cripple finds himself alone in a forest with nothing to eat except herbs and grasses and no way out. He forages for a while and then:
Once, he came to an herb the likes of which he had never eaten before. This herb pleased him very much, because he had been eating grasses for a long time, so he knew them very well, and such an herb he had never seen before. He came to the decision to tear it out with its root. Under the root was a diamond.
The Leviat Hachen (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender ztz”l) explains:
….when the cripple found a new herb possessing a flavor he’d never tasted before, he didn’t think it was a coincidence. But even in the difficult situation in which he found himself, he was able to compose his mind and delve into the root of the matter. And this comes to hint to us that it is forbidden to ascribe anything to natural occurrence and coincidence, God forbid. On the contrary, one must pay good attention to everything and to every change that occurs under the sun, to analyze with his mind and to delve into the root of every matter, to examine and to ask why Hashem made it like this.
And the root of every matter is emuna.
The cripple’s scrutiny of the herbs and grasses led him to find the diamond which eventually led him to complete spiritual and physical healing, signifying the achievement of his spiritual potential, which in turn, allowed him to heal the world.
So when we come across something in our life or in ourselves, we shouldn’t just brush it off. We should face it and take it to Hashem – and then see where He takes us.
The translation of the Kli Yakar is from Rabbi Elihu Levine’s superb rendering of Shemot I from Menucha Publishers.
The translation of the Leviat Hachen is my own and any errors are also mine.