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Why oh why?


I am in a funk. A serious Tea Party-inspired funk fueled by the endless news analysis of why oh why did this happen on election day? My sister Joan, who lives in Massachusetts, was going about life as usual yesterday when we spoke because a) she’s smarter than me and doesn’t let the world’s unpleasantness drive her up a wall, and b) she lives in Massachusetts. I, on the other hand, am furiously looking for a decent explanation as well as someone to blame — ’cause I know it isn’t my fault that the House is now run by people who think global warming is a left-wing hoax and homosexual relationships are an abomination unto God. I’m pretty sure that I’m not responsible for the demonization and subsequent shellacking (his word) of President Obama.

Okay then. What does this have to do with this week’s Torah portion? Allow me to quote:

Isaac pleaded with God on behalf of his wife because she was barren, and God responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived.  But the children clashed/struggled inside her, and she said, “If so, why am I so?” She went to inquire of God.

Ramban interprets this funky phrase — why am I so? — as ‘If this is the way it must be, why go on?’ Rashi says that the real question is ‘Why did we pray for children (if it hurts this much)?’ Others: Why am I having such an unusual pregnancy? If I am an upright citizen, why is this happening?

Why is this happening to me?!?*@!? Everything was going swimmingly. My husband loves me. I’m finally pregnant. I’ve got a name picked out and some nice camel hair swaddling blankets on order. A little kicking is one thing, but this is ridiculous. It’s non-stop and hurts like hell. Is something wrong? SOMETHING’S WRONG! The baby is going to die. I’m going to die. Why would God grant our prayers only to do this? Is this pregnancy all a big tease? I wish my mother was here. I wish Isaac’s mother was still alive. OUCH! This is so unfair. WTF, God, WTF?

Not to worry, says God. You’ve got two nations (not just 2 boys) in your womb, two separate peoples who will spring forth from you. One will be mightier than the other and the older will serve the younger.

Not to worry, says God. The future of the entire world is playing itself out in your womb. You’re going to have to choose sides and play favorites, engage in perfidy to get your way (which, BTW, happens to be my way), and break several hearts. You will lie and cheat and assist in stealing, but all for the greater good. Generations from now, people will name their daughters after you and think your husband was a nebbish. That’s what.

Bad stuff happening is bad enough. Bad stuff happening and you’ve finally got a highly troubling explanation? Big drag. Bad stuff, an explanation, and the realization that not only can’t you run and hide, but you will be called upon before too long? To my mind, a very big drag.

So. Did I make a legitimate connection or am I just rambling? I can’t tell, but if you’re interested in reading a poem about in-womb fighting and a whole lot more, see Elegy With Reference to Our Conflicting Desires. It’s a goody, if I do say so myself. Won a prize and everything.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 11/04/2010 7:07 pm

    Wow, that was a nice connection to the Torah portion. I was reading right along and thought it was going to be an entry about the election results and the – bam! – tied it to the Torah portion. That was awesome, and it was a wonderful example of why Torah remains so alive and vital – it retains its relevance to our lives in our modern times.

  2. Herb permalink
    11/10/2010 7:16 pm

    Hi Sue: I believe it’s dangerous to endorse the doctrine that “the end justifies the means.” If I thought about it enough, however, I might come up with an exception that I’d accept. But I expect it would have to involve something vitally important. Your elegy reminds me of the current best-selling novel “Cutting for Stone”–a worthwhile read. Love, Herb

    • sue swartz permalink*
      11/11/2010 9:30 am

      Dangerous for the ends to justify the means. I won’t pass judgment on that one (I could argue strongly either way), but the Torah is one long ends justifying the means. And if the text isn’t clear enough, the commentators often are. There’s no denying that Rebekah helped her son Jacob, our patriarch, to bold faced-lie to his father Isaac. If he hadn’t, so the story goes, Esau might be our patriarch. Vitally important? To the story line — sure is.

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