Summarizing 15 Years — and Millennia

The Weekly Parsha

By Ilana Grinblat

Published November 20, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A college friend of mine recently found me on Facebook. We hadn’t spoken to each other since graduation, but I was happy to hear from him. Since we had been out of touch for so long, he began by summarizing the last 15 years of his life. In a few bullet-pointed sentences, he concisely explained how he had started a Ph.D. program, left to work in the corporate world and married and had a child. I was surprised how such a long period of time could be encapsulated so succinctly, and I did my best to describe my adulthood in a few brief sentences.

On reflection, I realized that the past six years of my life could be summarized in just one sentence — a verse from this week’s Torah portion, Genesis 25:22. This verse describes Rebecca’s experience of being pregnant: “And the children struggled together inside her; and she said, ― If so, why this me? And she went to inquire of God.”

This week’s parsha Toldot (Generations) tells the story of Rebecca and Isaac becoming parents. The parsha explains that Rebecca and Isaac had struggled with infertility, and long dreamt of becoming pregnant. However, Rebecca soon found that pregnancy was much harder than she had anticipated. She was in a great deal of pain and called out to God. Her fragmented question: “if, so, why this me?” indicated the depth of her anguish. Her question was an existential one; she longed to understand her place in the world.

Rebecca sought God, who then responded to her in turn. Until this point in the Torah, God had spoken to other people, but Rebecca was the first person to take the initiative to address God directly and prompt God to answer. God told Rebecca that she was pregnant with twins, and that these children would each lead a future nation. In responding, God didn’t remove Rebecca’s pain but helped her see the bigger picture by imparting significance to her suffering. God reminded her that her life — and her current pain — was a part of something larger, and this purpose gave her strength to endure.

Rebecca went lidrosh “to inquire” or seek God. This verb is the root of the later word midrash (which means the interpretation of Torah). Rebecca’s quest serves as a paradigm for the process of Torah study, which seeks to gain an understanding from God of our life’s purpose.

Like Rebecca, I too found child-rearing more difficult than anticipated. I felt ill throughout my pregnancy, had complications in labor and then struggled with sleep deprivation for the first few years of each of my children’s lives. This experience led me to question who I was in the world and reassess my priorities. Through the vehicle of Torah, I turned to God for answers and discovered new meaning in life. This insight didn’t make raising children easier, but imparted a sense of fulfillment. Rebecca’s verse captures the spiritual journey of parenting.

The verse also encapsulates the spiritual quest of the Jewish people since Rebecca’s time. Throughout the generations, the Jewish people have found life far more challenging than we anticipated. In crises, we turned to God and asked repeatedly, “If so, why this me?” Through Torah, we sought and seek our purpose. In turn, God doesn’t remove our suffering but reminds us that our actions have ultimate significance. This understanding has given our people the strength to endure through the ages.

As it turns out, summarizing a decade or five millennia is easier than it seems. Only one sentence is needed: “The children struggled within her, and she said, ‘if so, why this me’ and went to inquire of God…” The rest is history.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.