Reflections on the ‘Masav’ in light of Rivka Imeinu

There are days when you can’t help but see synchronicity. At Matan this morning we continued learning about the life of Yitzchak and Yaakov. Over the last few weeks we have been addressing the issue of living in the home and in the shadow of a victim of trauma. What does it mean to be a ‘survivor’ for the victim, his children, his spouse. We have discussed that the question that haunts the family of Yitzhak is “למה זה אנוכי” – literally translated as “why am I being/existing”? or “what is the purpose of my existence”. This phrase is asked by Rivka and echoed also by Eisav. It is the question that lingers in all of Yitzchak’s narratives and dialogues. In other words, much of what we learn about Yitzchak’s household is a response to the existential crisis of existence. All the protagonists question their existence and purpose of being. Eisav’s response is highly hedonistic, Yitzchak is saturated with complexity and a survival instinct. The topic is exhaustive and far beyond the scope of this short post to address at length, but it seemed pertinent that today we followed Rivka’s response. After asking the question above she seeks out God who responds with a telling prophecy, that the older will be subservient to the younger. Analysing the text and the plethora of commentaries, it is clear that there is a purposeful ambiguity to the prophecy. Grammatically it is unclear which of the two boys will be subservient to who. In my mind the ambiguity is itself Gods response to Rivka. Rivka in a moment of total existential chaos and uncertainty turns to God in an attempt to find order and harmony. Gods response is to give her agency as an interpreter of her reality rather than as a passive bystander. In assigning her the role of the interpreter, He grants her purpose. In other words, she must watch these boys carefully, she must use her own sense of perception and judgment to determine how to act in order for the prophecy to come true. Rivka faces her existential angst by reclaiming agency and purpose. This morning on the way to work after having demonstrated and practised with my 9 year old closing the mamad door, I was listening to an elderly lady on the radio who had had a rocket land in her garden. She strongly and defiantly said to the interviewer “we will remain strong, we know we need to do this and we will face anything we must with resilience”. This nation has had its fair share of trauma both in the distant and recent past. We have faced unimaginable pain and suffering loosing a third of our nation to the worst crime humanity has seen, we have been tortured, slaughtered, lied about, and envied. And yet somehow, even bleeding, we come out and continue to build, grow, never giving up our dream of a better tomorrow. We stare despair in its face and respond by taking agency, finding meaning, striving for redemption and overcoming suffering. When faced with an existential crisis, both literally and metaphorically we do what our matriarch Rivka did. We become interpreters of reality, imprinting meaning onto to our existence and reclaiming an autonomous agency, all whilst being unsure of how things will turn out. As Victor Frankel famously states “He who knows the ‘why’ for his existence, will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’” This is us, the nation of Israel and I am proud to be one of its people.

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