Excavating the Herodian oil lamps
A poem sparked by parashat Toldot

Why am I, and how can I integrate? - questions from Toldot

Here's the short d'var Torah I offered yesterday morning during the contemplative Shabbat service at my shul. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)

וַיִּתְרֹצֲצוּ הַבָּנִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ וַתֹּאמֶר אִם־כֵּן לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי וַתֵּלֶךְ לִדְרשׁ אֶת־יְי: The children grappled with each other inside her, and she thought to herself: if this is so, why do I exist? So she went to ask that of Adonai.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְי לָהּ
שְׁנֵי גֹייִם בְּבִטְנֵךְ
וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים מִמֵּעַיִךְ
יִפָּרֵדוּ וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ
וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר:

And God said to her:
two nations are inside you;
two will branch off from each other, as they emerge from your womb.
One shall prevail over the other;
elder, serve younger.

If this is so, why do I exist? Or: If this is what's happening, why am I?

This is a fundamental question, and perhaps one which those with a contemplative bent know well. Why am I? Why am I me, and not someone else? Why is this life mine?

The word Rivka uses for "I" is anochi. Usually in Hebrew one uses the simple ani, I. But Rivka uses a kind of royal I, the same word used by God.

Rivka takes this question directly to that Anochi, to God, to Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh. That four-letter name can be understood as a form of the verb "to be" in all tenses at once: Was-Is-WillBe. Rivka takes her existential question to the Mystery at the heart of all things.

And that Mystery replies: there is a duality inside you. A pulling this way, and a pulling that way.

We all experience duality. Body and soul. I and thou. Insider and outsider. The wrestle of the twins in Rivka's womb can be a metaphor for the life each of us experiences.

The story of this parsha is a story of one twin overcoming the other. The younger brother, the trickster, the mama's boy, the underdog, winning out over the older brother, the hunter, daddy's favorite, the one who was supposed to inherit.

All over Genesis we find these inversions. Maybe this is a sign that we have always seen ourselves as an "underdog" people. But I always wonder what would have happened if the twins could have avoided their enmity.

And when I see Jacob and Esau as components of every human soul,I wonder what integration of those two sides might look like.

Jacob grabs his brother's heel in utero, and is therefore named Yakov, which relates to ekev, heel. Perhaps Jacob represents attachment. Holding-on. Clinging tightly.

Esau will become so hungry that he trades his birthright for a bowl of red lentils. Perhaps Esau represent desire. Craving. An existential emptiness which can't be filled.

Rivka's anochi is a kind of royal "I." It could also be understood as an integrated "I." When I can wholly integrate my inner Esau and my inner Jacob -- my body and my mind; my impulses and my forethought -- then, like Rivka, I can be an anochi.

What are the opposites which you struggle to integrate and reconcile?

What would it feel like to bring those opposites directly to God?

Who would you be if you could integrate them into one whole?