This week’s Parashah (Gen 25:19 – 28:9) is loaded with a number of very powerful and intriguing themes. Yitzchak (Isaac) and Rivkah (Rebecca) are unable to bring forth children for a period of close to 20 years. When Rivkah eventually becomes pregnant she is told that she carries two nations in her womb. When the twins are born, Yaakov is clutching the heel of Esau and his name “Yaakov” is based upon this unique feature. Yaakov and Esau grow up as two completely different personalities who often clash with each other. Esau sells his birthright to Yaakov for a pot of red lentil stew and almost 50 years later (according to some sources) Yitzchak in his old age blesses a disguised Yaakov, thinking that it is his oldest son, Esau. It is the kind of stuff that has inspired writers and artists and even filmmakers, throughout the centuries and has been the source of many heated debates and discussions.
When I read through this passage, I was struck by the amount of questions being asked, throughout the entire Parashah. There is something like 16 questions being asked and the Hebrew word “mah” (meaning what? or how? or why? or when?) appears no less than seven times in these four chapters: (1) In Gen 25:22 Rivkah was perplexed by the almost unusual movement of the twins in her womb and she asked the question: “If all is right, why am I this way?” (2) In Gen 25:32 Esau was considering the offer to exchange his birthright for a bowl of stew and eventually asked the question “Look, I am going to die, so why should I have birthright?” (3) In Gen 26:10 Avimelech was confused about the fact that Yitzchak told him that Rivkah was his sister and he asked this question: “What is this you have done to us?” (4) In Gen 27:20 Yaakov approached Yitzchak and pretended to be his brother while Esau was still hunting and Yitzchak, who could not see well, asked him: “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” (5) In Gen 27:37 Esau returned from the field and found out that Yaakov had stolen his birthright from him. When he approached his father, Yitzchak asked him: “What, then, shall I do for you, my son?” (6) In Gen 27:45 Rivkah asked her son Yaakov “Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?” advising Yaakov to flee away from Esau so that Esau may not find him and perhaps kill him and (7) In Gen 27:46 Rivkah once again asked a question, this time because she was concerned about the fact that Yaakov might take a non-Israelite girl as his wife. Her question was: “What is my life to me (if my son marries a Chetite woman)?”
In the Hebrew culture the habit (and the love) of asking questions is, of course, well known. When the Jews study a passage of Scriptures like this one, they will never do so without asking a great number of questions and arguing among themselves about the possible answers to these questions. To them, learning only comes through asking questions and discovering the best answers to these questions. In one of the websites where questions are being asked about the Parashah of this week, I have come across some questions and answers that are quite interesting and worth looking onto – not necessarily because the answers are “correct” but because they demonstrate beautifully how vital the combination of questions and answers is to becoming established in belief – even if this belief may not be shared by everyone.
The first question that caught my eye, was this one (remember: this question and answer is not based upon fact, but upon the desire to understand the bigger picture behind the story): QUESTION: Why did Esau come out red? ANSWER: While Esau and Yaakov were in their mother’s womb, they had a very interesting conversation. Yaakov said to Esau, “Listen, brother, before us there are two worlds: Olam Hazeh (this normal, everyday world) and Olam Haba (the World to Come). In Olam Hazeh there is much eating, drinking, and physical delights. In Olam Haba there are none of these things. Everything is spiritual and one simply enjoys doing the will of Elohim. Tell me brother, which one you prefer and I will take the other.” Esau, being of a worldly nature, immediately decided that Olam Hazeh was for him and that Yaakov could keep Olam Haba. Consequently, when the time came for Rivkah to give birth, Esau wanted his Olam Hazeh as quickly as possible, so he pushed extremely hard and hurried red-faced out of his mother’s womb, just slightly ahead of his brother.
The second question is about the names of Yaakov and Esau and how these names are related to the Father’s Name. QUESTION: Why was Yaakov called “יעקב” and not just “עקב” — “heel”? ANSWER: When Esau was born, he was covered with hair like an adult. He was given the name “עשו” – a name that we know as Esau. Actually, he should have been called “עשוי” (asui) which means “fully made.” So named, he would have two letters from the set-apart four-lettered Name of the Almighty. Should his brother have been called simply “עקב” he would not have had any letters of the Almighty’s name. Therefore, Yaakov held on to the heel (end part) of Esau’s name and grabbed the “yot” (“י”) for himself. Thus, he too, had a letter from the Almighty’s set-apart Name in his name.
These two questions, and especially the answers given, may seem quite unusual to us. Perhaps these are not the kind of questions we would have asked. And, as far as the answers are concerned, I am pretty sure that none of us would have come up with answers like these, without consulting the internet or the opinions of others. Which is just a reminder that questions are personal and diverse and will always vary in proportion to the personalities, backgrounds and needs of the people asking those questions. And when it comes to the answers, it is often a matter of opinion and point of view. Even when a simple question is asked, many different answers may be given by people who are not looking to the question from the same perspective. Some of these people may focus on facts alone. Others may take their point of departure from traditions or doctrines or personal circumstances or even some kind of hurt that they may experience.
Let us return, briefly, to the seventh question above asked by Rivkah who was afraid that her beloved son, Yaakov, may (like Esau had done already) marry a Chetite woman. The question she asked was this: “What is my life to me (if something like this should happen)?” In Afrikaans this question is translated: “(As dit moet gebeur), waarvoor lewe ek dan?” Let us not focus on the general issue of marrying someone from another nationality. This is not what this question is about. What is true for Israel in their capacity as the set-apart people of Yahweh, is not simply true for every other nation of the world. Rivkah’s question originates from a total desire to be obedient to Yahweh, to live according to the precepts of Torah and ensure (as far as possible) that those who are part of one’s household, also live according to the principles of Torah. With Rivkah, this desire and mindset was so strong that her whole being was focused on it. Outside of this primary goal and ambition in life, Rivkah saw no purpose and no meaning to her own existence. To her, living in disobedience before Yahweh, is the same as being severed from the fountain and life-giving source of one’s existence.
The Scripturally related questions most people ask today, are about trying to sidestep the need for total obedience to Scriptures. Which day is the true Sabbath? Which commandments are for the Jews and which are for us? How can people apply the same laws of the ancient world to our modern world of today? Why do we have to follow Torah if Y’shua fulfilled Torah? Why keep the Passover if we’ve never been in Egypt? What calendar is the correct one? How should I know which fellowship I should join? How can I remain in a certain fellowship if there are people who do not accept me for who I am? How can it be wrong to follow traditions that have been around for almost 20 centuries? If this way of Torah is the right one, why is there so much resistance and criticism? On what authority do you base your decision to follow Torah? Why should I call on the Father’s Name if no one is sure how the Name should be pronounced? How can you expect of me to join a movement with only a handful of members? Why should I do things that I have never done before?
All of these are good questions, and they should all be asked from time to time, but they all tend to sidestep the main issue at hand: “What is my life to me?” What is the essence of my life boiling down to? How important is it for me to live my life the way Yahweh had intended for me? Or am I prepared to allow questions and issues of lesser importance to rob and deprive me of the life He had set aside for me? Do we have the boldness and the honesty to ask PROPER questions, or are we going to continue asking questions that, in the final analyses, are nothing more than man-made techniques to postpone the most vital and most essential questions in life? Some people have succeeded in making this into some kind of a lifestyle: They seem to keep on asking the same questions – year in and year out. By asking these lesser questions they create the impression that they are serious about belief; they even convince themselves they are honest and open to the truths of the Word. But what they are really doing, is pausing their own spiritual growth and sidestepping the question above all other questions: “What is my life to me?” Behind this most important question, lies another question, similar and directly related to it: “What is my life to Yahweh?” Because it is from Him alone that I can learn what my life is supposed to be. People have their own ideas. Even my own ideas are not to be trusted. Therefore I should never stop asking: “What is my life to Yahweh?” In Him, and from Him and towards Him is my entire existence.