On Struggles, Wholeness and Peace | Parashat Toldot

וַיִּתְרֹצֲצוּ הַבָּנִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ וַתֹּאמֶר אִם־כֵּן לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי וַתֵּלֶךְ לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת־יְהוָה׃

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה לָהּ שְׁנֵי גיים [גוֹיִם] בְּבִטְנֵךְ וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר׃ (בראשית כה:כב-כג)

But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist?” She went to inquire of the LORD, and the LORD 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.” (Gen. 25:22-23)

It is, in fact, quite a powerful image to imagine. The foundations of Israel and its enemy people originating in the same womb, struggling for power, quarreling with one another from their pre-birth days. But the narrative could have been told differently. We, Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could have been born by ourselves without quarrel or contention – without having to share ancestry or even a womb.  The narrative could have been anything under the sun. Yaakov and Esav could have been two brothers born separately and not as twins, or in fact two nations might not even share the same mother.

So, then why was it important to set us up as two distinct nations coming from the same mother?  Why was it necessary at all to be brothers struggling for power and for a single birthright? And then why does our narrative set us up to humiliate the older and more powerful nation with the foreshadowing prediction that the older and mightier will serve the weaker and younger?

Do these open questions lend us greater strength and confidence in our own narrative?  Are to feel better about ourselves that we – Yisrael – started out as Yaakov, the heel and the cheat who bested his older and stronger brother and then became the father of 12 tribes and the patriarch of our nation?

If one looks at current events it could feel that we have been eternally struggling with our neighbors. Constantly quarreling one with another in this narrow and confined womb-like place. Fighting with one another to prove who is the mighty and who is the weak, and who will serve whom?

Where does this constant struggle and continuous conflict lead us? Our struggling with other nation from utero until today is a struggle for survival, for power, and for our [birth]rights.

Yet we also are struggling with ourselves. A Hassidic master explained that the two warring halves in Rebecca’s womb were actually two sides of the same person – a power struggle over one’s Yeitzer HaRa (evil inclination) vs one’s Yeitzer HaTov (inclination for good).

In fact, we are always in conflict with both ourselves and with others, and we struggle to make things whole, to create a sense of wholeness. To put the two halves together and create one. In Hebrew, the concept of wholeness is שלמות from the root ש-ל-ם.  Once we achieve a sense of שלמות, of wholeness of coming together with our other half, we can truly obtain שלום, peace.  The Hassidic master explained that without this struggle, we could not understand what it is to be whole and what it is to be at peace.

In order to obtain שלום we must recognize that the proverbial other, the adversary, the one with whom we struggle, is actually part of us.  Then, maybe we could struggle just a little bit less?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

May you have a Shabbat of שלמות and of שלום – of wholeness and peace.

About the author: 

Rabbi Josh Weinberg serves as the URJ’s Vice President for Israel and Zionism and as the Executive Director of ARZA. He currently lives in New York, with his wife and four daughters.

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