Rivka had a difficult pregnancy and was often in pain from the unborn children striking out at each other. 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)
People have difficult pregnancies; it’s not so uncommon. What was so difficult for her to understand that she had to seek out answers?
Of course, we have the benefit of knowing how the story unfolds. At this point in the story, Rivka did not yet know that she was having twins!
Our sages understand that each time Rivka walked past a holy site, she would feel her belly stir, and each time she walked past a site of pagan worship, she would feel more stirring. Without knowing it would be two children with different dispositions, this seemed like one very confused individual!
R’ Chaim Brown suggests a compelling reading. When Moshe reviewed the Torah in his final speech to the people, he told 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 in context is that there is always a good and a bad choice, and we must be careful to choose wisely. But there is a different implication from a closer reading.
It is not just a choice of what we want to do, but who we want to be. What identity will we take up? What kind of אָנֹכִי, literally the first person “I,” will we choose to become?
Porting this interpretation to Rivka’s lamentation, she cried – לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי – where kind of the אָנֹכִי is this promised child? He wants the holy places, and he wants the pagan places! This child is broken and confused!
Understanding the depth of her question, we can plumb the depths and meaning in the answer when the oracle replied to her, that שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵך – it is not one confused child, there will be two children with two separate identities! And she was comforted, and the story continues.
We must remember that every choice shapes our identities. We must root out confusion or mixed messaging and proactively choose who we want to be with what we do because every choice aligns us closer one way or the other.