There are many couples in the Bible, and several episodes of barren wives. But the one that always stands out for me is the story of Isaac and Rebecca, in this week’s Torah portion Toldot.
Why? Because they love each other. The Torah is explicit in telling us this, and then tells us that after 20 years of childless marriage, Isaac prays to God that Rebecca will have a child. Both their love and his prayer for her are unique.
The God of Genesis often feels more like one of the characters in the narrative than a deity. People walk and talk with God; sometimes they ask questions and sometimes God asks questions. The humans’ interactions with God are almost casual.
Not Isaac. He pleads with God, and God responds. And then Rebecca, dealing with a difficult pregnancy, has the audacity to seek God out and ask a deeply touching question: “Why do I exist?”
It is such a human question, one that we ask during our darkest times. When we are in pain, whether it is physical or mental or spiritual pain.
A story: A woman is sitting on the bathroom floor, leaning on the toilet, so exhausted that she can’t stand. Her hair has fallen out, and the chemotherapy drugs are wreaking havoc on her stomach. She is wondering if she will ever make it through and she asks God, “Why do I exist?” She lifts her head, hearing the sound of laughter. She crawls to the doorway, and can just see into the yard, where her children are splashing and playing in the pool with friends, while another mother watches over them. And she remembers why.
Rebecca receives a clear and direct answer from God, telling her everything she needs to know about the two sons in her womb. Later in the story, when it appears that she is manipulating her ailing husband to bless the younger child over the older, it is easy to see favoritism. But in truth she is simply obeying God’s instruction.
Few of us receive such a clear message. And yet so often the answer is just that simple: We exist for each other; for our children, our friends, our families, our communities. Each of us carries a seed that when planted in a community can grow and bear new seeds. We exist to love and be loved.