Then why am I?
November 09, 2015
At the very beginning of this week's Torah portion, Rebecca feels her twins struggling for dominance in her womb. Her response is an existential question: "If this is so, then why am I?" Every year when we reach this parsha, this verse leaps out at me. And every year when I apply the diamond of this verse to my own life, it reveals a different facet of my own heart and mind. (I love that about Torah study.)
If this is so, then why am I? This year the question resonates for me in an interpersonal way. There are people I love who are sick, and I am helpless to heal them. There are people I love who are in tight straits, and I am helpless to free them. There are people I love who are suffering, and I am helpless in the face of what they're going through. I want so much to make things better -- and I can't.
Rebecca's question reverberates in me. If I can't bring comfort, if I can't bring healing, if I can't make things better, then what am I doing here? Why am I even, if I can't balm the suffering of those I love? It's not an intellectual question, but a heart-question. Something is wrong and I can't fix it even though I yearn to do so with all of who I am. If I can't make it better, what am I even doing here?
Rebecca brings her question to God, and God gives her a narrative answer: there is a struggle inside her because she is carrying twins who are destined to tussle with each other. When I bring this same question to God, the answer I receive is just one word: love. Why am I? Love. What am I here for? Love. What can I extend to those in my life who are sick or suffering or grieving? Love. Only love.
I imagine that as my heart overflows for those in my life who are in tight places, so God's heart overflows for all of us. I think there's something about the experience of yearning to make things better for a beloved which is integral to human life -- and maybe this is part of what Torah means when it says that we are made in the divine image and likeness. As God feels compassion, so do we.
And maybe that is itself an answer to Rebecca's question. That's what we're here for. To feel with others, to feel for others. To wish we could make things better for each other. Even when we can't fix, we can choose to continue to feel; we can choose to continue to love; we can choose not to turn away.
Rivka's questions, our answers, 2006
Why am I and how can I integrate?, 2013
Peace parsha: if this is so, then why am I?, 2014