Sunday, November 14, 2004

Toldot #4: Making a break for it

from the midrash department:
As I pointed out in an earlier post, in the pasuk in Bereishit 25:22:
כב וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ, וַתֹּאמֶר אִם-כֵּן, לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי; וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה.
22 "And the children struggled together within her; and she said: 'If it be so, wherefore do I live?' And she went to inquire of the LORD."
the phrase וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ lends itself to two interpretations on the peshat, or simple literal level. It can either mean that the children struggled with each other in the womb (as per the translation offered above) or else it can mean that the children thrashed about and kicked inside of her, but the violence was not aimed at each other. In an earlier post, I linked to the former translation of stuggling with one another the midrashic interpretation of the phrase that they each ran (רץ) towards the other to kill him.

There are several midrashim that fit with the latter peshat interpretation of the phrase - that they were moving about and kicking her, and not each other - and I would focus on one or two such midrashim.

We know on a peshat level that the two sons of Yitzchak went their separate ways, with Yaakov taking the path of quiet study and Esav taking the violent path of hunting. As we read in Bereishit 25:27,
כז וַיִּגְדְּלוּ, הַנְּעָרִים, וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד, אִישׁ שָׂדֶה; וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים.
27 "And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents."
Note that even in the Hebrew the pasuk does not say that one became a hunter and the other a dweller of tents. It described what they were. They are not engaged in these professions, but rather they seem to define their character. "Esav was a man who knew how to hunt, a man of the field; Yaakov was a man of quiet/completeness." A midrash in midrash rabba, sensitive to the choice of language, notes that this was in their very character, and this potential was always present. It was only when וַיִּגְדְּלוּ הַנְּעָרִים, when the boys grew, that וַיְהִי, it was manifest, the nature of their respective characters.

It is not surprising that a midrash would declare that these character traits, and the distinction between a righteous Yaakov and a non-righteous Esav would be present even in the womb.

Thus, when Rivka went to a bet kenesset or bet midrash, Yaakov was eager to get out and kicked with his foot to leave. When she passed by a house of idolatry Esav ran (רץ) and kicked, struggling to get out.

To show that the wicked are so from before birth, the midrash cites Tehillim 58:4:
ד זֹרוּ רְשָׁעִים מֵרָחֶם; תָּעוּ מִבֶּטֶן, דֹּבְרֵי כָזָב.
4 The wicked are estranged from the womb; the speakers of lies go astray as soon as they are born. {J: literally from the belly}
This verse is understood to mean that even from within the womb, the wicked are estranged. This might be peshat, or else the peshat may be that from the time they exit the womb they are such. Regardless, that is how the pasuk is being used as prooftext.

Similarly, the midrash states, the righteous are sometimes so from the womb. We can see this from Yirmiyahu 1:5:
ה בְּטֶרֶם אצורך (אֶצָּרְךָ) בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ: נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם, נְתַתִּיךָ.
5 "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations."
I will note that it is appropriate that they have Yaakov trying to get out whenever Rivka passes a house of prayer or study - after all, elsewhere, when he is described as אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים, a quiet man sitting in tents, the midrash notes these are the tents of study of Shem and Ever. Thus, his eventual personality manifests itself even in the womb. Similarly, there are midrashim with Esav coming from the field (only to sell his birthright for beans) having worshipped idols, and he is a man of the field, so it makes sense for him to try to leave the womb when near a house of idolatry. Also, the idolatrous temple is a good parallel to the house of study/prayer to Hashem.

But, I will say further. Where did the midrash get this detail that Yaakov kicked in order to leave when near a house of study/prayer? Appropriateness to theme is one thing, but usually a midrash will be able to point to something in the pasuk that will compel its interpretation.

I would offer the following.

וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ, וַתֹּאמֶר אִם-כֵּן, לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי; וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה.

Interpret as follows:
וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ - the children kicked (to get out from) within her.

When did they do this?

וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה - when she went to seek out Hashem, in the bet midrash or bet kenesset, Yaakov did it.

We know when Yaakov did it. Esav presumably did so in the opposite situation. And we can say that there were two types of running (רץ) to exit the womb as described by the midrash, based on the word וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ. There are two צ in the word, because it is a geminate root (with the second letter repeated), but we are not used to seeing the word in this form, so we can take it to refer to two runnings.

{Further interpretation could be made - that when the pasuk relates (וַתֹּאמֶר אִם-כֵּן, לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי - "and she said: 'If it be so, wherefore do I live?'") it is because she thinks she has one child who is running after both Torah and idolatry. However, the midrash does not mention any such reaction from Rivka, and so such a suggestion would be a stretch.}

Thus, וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ is being taken midrashically to mean to run - by Esav, the word רץ is even used. And there is a midrashic seizure of the end of the pasuk to explain the reason for the running. But the basis is a literal peshat reading of וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ as kicking, rather than struggling with each other.

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