Rivka had a difficult pregnancy and was often in pain from the unborn children fighting. One particular time, she lamented:

וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ, וַתֹּאמֶר אִם-כֵּן, לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי; וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה – The children struggled within her, and she said, “This is what it is? Why is this happening to me?” And she went to inquire of the Lord.
(25:22)

What was so difficult for her to understand, that she had to seek out answers?

But we must remember that at this point in the story, Rivka did yet know she was having twins!

Of course, we have the benefit of knowing how the story would unfold. Chazal understand that each time she walked past a holy site, one child would agitate, and each time she walked past pagan idols, the other would stir.

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 simple meaning is that there is always a good and a bad choice, and we must choose wisely.

But there is a different implication from a closer reading. It is not just a choice of action, but a choice of identity – אָנֹכִי means the first person, the self, “I.”

What kind of אָנֹכִי do we each wish to be?

Tying this to Rivka’s problem, we can frame Rivka’s 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 is confused! And the prophet replied to her:

שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵך – It is not one confused child, there are two children with two separate identities.

With this, she was comforted.

With our every each choice and action, we get to choose to align closer with one identity or the other.

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.