The parsha opens with a description of the trials and tribulations that preceded the birth of the twins, Esav and Yaakov. We are told of two challenging events, the period of infertility and the difficult pregnancy. In both cases I think we can learn much about the personality of Rivka (and a bit about the personality of Yitzchak as well).
During her turbulent pregnancy, when she is troubled by the overactive children, the passuk tells us “Vetelech Ldrosh et Hashem”, she went to ??????? God. (No, that is not a problem with your fonts — I put in the question marks…) What is the meaning of the word “ldrosh”? What did she actually do? Where did she do it (as the main verb in the sentence is that “[she] went”)? What was her purpose, and what was the answer that she received?
We are mostly familiar with the interpretation of Rashi who paints the following picture: After years (possibly) of praying for a child, she becomes pregnant and is suffering so much that she wonders why she ever wanted to be involved in this in the first place and is truly bothered by the fact that she actually prayed for this!! She goes (vatelech) to the Bet Midrash of Shem to find out (ldrosh) what will be the result of this pregnancy and is told of her two rival children… We see a troubled woman entering the Bet Midrash and the elder, Shem, listening to her complaints and receiving the message from God to be relayed to Rivka.
Most other commentators choose a similar path with a few variations, the Radak, for instance, sees her as going to seek Avraham Avinu instead of Shem or in more general terms the Rashbam simply says she went to a prophet at the time without getting involved in exactly who that prophet was.
The Ramban has a different reading of one word which I think changes the entire story. The Ramban says that the translation of the word “ldrosh” is not to be understood as seeking information about the future, as Rashi did. According to the Ramban the word ldrosh means to pray (he even goes so far as to suggest that it always means to pray when used in such a context, ldrosh et Hashem, a point that is bitterly argued against by the Ran in his second Drasha amongst others). The picture according to the Ramban is very different. Rivka is troubled by the pregnancy and turns to God Himself in prayer. The next passuk takes on a totally different tone when we read “And God said to her…”. According to the Ramban there is no one else in the story, not Shem, Avraham or any other prophet. God responds to her prayer directly!
I think that we are left with two very different impressions of Rivka Imanu. According to Rashi she did not turn to prayer on her own. The reason for this may be related to the previous pessukim in the parsha where the Torah tells us that Yitzchak prayed for his barren wife and HE was answered, as opposed to Rivka. Rashi quotes the Midrash that extols the teffila of a tzadik the son of a tzadik (Yitzchak) as opposed to that of a tzaddik the son of a rasha (Rivka). She feels that she cannot do it herself and seeks the assistance of the prophet or wise man.
According to the Ramban we have a troubled soul who has, due to her suffering, pondered the question of her very existence (Lama zeh anochi). She chooses to approach God in prayer. We have many different verbs to indicate teffila in the Torah. The term ldrosh is very unique. On one hand it infers seeking God and yet at the same time it has connotations of a demand (in Devarim it refers to a court conducting an in depth investigation, or even cross examination). Rivkah, according to the Ramban is not a feeble woman looking to find advice. She approaches God with demands. “What is going on here? Why am I suffering so? What can the purpose be?”
According the reading of the Ramban, it is God Himself who responds to Rivka. This is a very special level of Teffila. It is very rare to find a direct and immediate response to any teffila, but Rivka receives one. (The approach of the other commentaries that we listed above has the response to Rivka being delivered by whichever authority she went to visit. The Talmud Yerushalmi in Mesechet Sota supports this reading and goes as for as to say that except for Sarah, God never spoke directly to a woman!)
I think the Ramban helps us understand the entire parsha and why it opens with this episode. It is not simply because she was pregnant before giving birth that we are told about the pregnancy and her teffilot. Rivka’s actions during the pregnancy reflect a main element of her personality. Rivka is a very dominant figure and does not wait to be invited to offer her opinion or take action. We first met Rivka last week when she showed great acts of kindness but a central part of the story was her initiative, not just the act itself.
The opening story of our parsha places her in direct “conflict” with God until she receives a satisfying explanation for her predicament. This, of course, naturally leads into the continuation of the parsha where she has very clear attitudes that differ from those of her husband. While Yitzchak favors Esav, Rivka loves Yaakov. The powerful personality of Rivka is the centerpiece of our parsha as she designs the entire scene whereby Yaakov receives the brachot form Yitzchak.
The parsha ends with Rivka’s “fingerprints” clearly imprinted on the rest of the characters. Yaakov is sent away to find a wife on the insistence of Rivka (see 27:46). I think it is interesting to note that Esav makes his choice of his (an additional) mate because of the opinion of his father (28:8) without a mention of his mother at all.
During Sefer Breishit we learn much about our ancestors and their character traits. This week we learn about Rivka and how, for some, at some times, the correct approach is to take charge of the situation, not leaving anything to chance and not being afraid to approach even God Himself to get what we need.