Rivka had a difficult pregnancy and was often pained. One particular time, she lamented:

וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ, וַתֹּאמֶר אִם-כֵּן, לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי; וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה.
(25:19-20)

Chazal understand that each time she walked past a holy place, one child would agitate, and each time she walked past a place of idolatry, the other would agitate.

Not yet knowing it was twins, she could not understand what she was experiencing – לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי – (Literally) “Why is this happening to me?”.

She inquired her about her condition, and learned she was expecting twins, calming her:

וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה וַיֹּאמֶר ה לָהּ, שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנך – She went to a prophet, and he said to her, “There are two nations within you”.

But if what bothered her was the children moving around, how does the new information that she was expecting twins address the issue?

R’ Chaim Brown suggests a fascinating resolution. When Moshe reviews the Torah in his final speech to the people, he tells them:

רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָֽה – See how I place before you a blessing and a curse… Good and Evil. (11:26)

The obvious meaning is that there is a choice between two archetypes: good and evil, and we are implored to choose wisely.

But there is a different implication. אָנֹכִי means the first person, the self, “I”. What kind of אָנֹכִי do we each wish to be?

Tying this to Rivka’s problem, R’ Brown frames her problem and resolution in a different light:

לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי – where is the אָנֹכִי in this child? Does he want to go to holy places, or serve idols? This child has no אָנֹכִי – he is confused! And the prophet replied to her:

שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵך – It is not one confused child, there are two distinct אָנֹכִי archetypes. With this, she was comforted. In a sense, this is the choice laid before us each and every day. With each choice and action, we get to choose to align closer with one way or another. Let’s make it count.

When Yakov disguised himself to receive his Yitzchak’s blessing, he had to quell Yitzchak’s suspicions:

וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל אָבִיו אָנֹכִי עֵשָׂו בְּכֹרֶךָ עָשִׂיתִי כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ אֵלָי קוּם נָא שְׁבָה וְאָכְלָה מִצֵּידִי בַּעֲבוּר תְּבָרֲכַנִּי נַפְשֶׁךָ – Yakov said to his father, “I am, Esau, your firstborn. I have done as you said to me. Please rise, sit down and eat, so that you can bless me.” (27:19)

Isn’t this an outright lie?

When this story is taught to youngsters, they learn that he did not claim to be Esau. Yakov paused after he said “I am”, and then simply affirmed that Esau was his firstborn son.

But when he said “I have done as you said to me,” what other way is there to understand the deception?

Rashi states that although it seems like he lied, Yakov was still being true to Yitzchak’s ways. The Od Yosef Chai notes that Avraham taught Yitzchak, and Yitzchak taught Yakov. Yakov could truthfully state he had done as Yitzchak had said. Undoubtedly, one of the instructions was to honour his parents, and in fact, the whole scheme was his mother’s idea! He listened to his mother because his father had taught him to.

It’s a fine line. But sometimes it’s more important to stay true to what something means than to keep to what it literally says.

When it was clear that they would be unable to have children, Yitzchak and Rivka prayed:

‘וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַה’ לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ, כִּי עֲקָרָה הִו וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה –  Yitzchak begged the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and He conceded”. (21:25)

We classically understand that God wants our prayers, yet the Torah says that God “conceded”. Why was the prayer unwelcome?

R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld explains that out of respect for Avraham’s honour, he would  live long enough to see his eldest son Yishmael repent (25:9), but die before his grandson Esau became a murderer (25:30). But the earlier Esau was born, the sooner Avraham would die! The “concession” of וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה  tracks precisely this tension. There was never any doubt that Isaac would have children; his father had been promised “nations”, through Isaac. Rivka would certainly be their mother as she was the one deemed worthy, as evidenced by the miracles Eliezer witnessed. It was just a matter of time then. Literally.

There was never any doubt that Yitzchak would have children; his father had been promised “nations” through him. Rivka would be their mother as evidenced by the miracles Eliezer witnessed. It was just a matter of time.

It just wasn’t the right time in their lives. But they begged, and Hashem conceded.

Each day we pray that רְצוֹן-יְרֵאָיו יַעֲשֶׂה; וְאֶת-שַׁוְעָתָם יִשְׁמַע, וְיוֹשִׁיעֵם – He fulfils the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry, and saves them. These are not separate and are not out of order. Hashem fulfils desires to placate cries, but sometimes it’s our desires that make us cry. we don’t know what’s best for us. It’s about saving us from ourselves.

We don’t know always what’s best for us. We may want for the wrong thing. Part of the gift of prayer is that it can save us from ourselves.