Our Defining Moments
A woman is suffering tremendous pain from her pregnancy. She seeks out Divine counsel and is informed that she’s bearing twins. They will develop into two great nations that will continuously strive with one another. Yet one will eventually surpass the other. She is the one who gets to choose.
Such was the fate allotted to our mother, Rebecca. When God informed her of the reason for her labor pains, the verse says:
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה לָ֗הּ שְׁנֵ֤י גוֹיִם֙ בְּבִטְנֵ֔ךְ וּשְׁנֵ֣י לְאֻמִּ֔ים מִמֵּעַ֖יִךְ יִפָּרֵ֑דוּ וּלְאֹם֙ מִלְאֹ֣ם יֶֽאֱמָ֔ץ וְרַ֖ב יַעֲבֹ֥ד צָעִֽיר׃
God answered her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two separate peoples shall issue from your body;
They will strive with each other,
And the older will serve the younger.
Alternatively, And the younger will serve the older.”
Linguistics teaches us that there is no universal rule to the order of subjects, verbs, and objects in a sentence.
In English, the subject usually precedes the verb:
John stunned Martha with his story.
David defeated Goliath.
In Biblical Hebrew, subjects can come before or after the verb. For this reason, the word, את Et, is utilized; it’s an object placer. When the object in a line is unclear, an Et is placed before it.
For instance, the first verse in the Torah contains two Ets:
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
“In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth.”
Since the subject can come before or after the verb, this line could be understood, “The Beginning (Bereishit) created (bara) God (Elokim)…”
However, since we have Ets before Heaven (Shamayim) and Earth (Aretz), we know now that they are the objects in this verse. Therefore, “In the beginning, God (subject) created Heaven and Earth (objects).
When God tells Rebecca that one will serve the other, there are no Ets, meaning: it’s unclear who’s the subject and who’s the object. I believe this was left intentionally unclear so that Rebecca would decide and determine her progeny’s future.
The twins grow up, and Esau (the firstborn) becomes a hunter. Jacob, on the other hand, follows the paths of Abraham and Isaac and becomes a shepherd. Esau marries two Canaanite women whom Rebecca despises.
Jacob considerately waits for Rebecca’s nieces to come of age.
Ultimately, Isaac favors Esau and Rebecca favors Jacob.
When Isaac becomes blind and weak, and it is time to pass on the leadership mantle that he received from Abraham, he plans on giving it to his firstborn, Esau.
Rebecca, however, clearly sees that Jacob is the spiritual heir to Abraham and Isaac and that the blessings would befit him better.
She then interprets her nebulous message,וְרַ֖ב יַעֲבֹ֥ד צָעִֽיר, as “The older shall serve the younger” and endeavors to ensure that Jacob receives Isaac’s blessings.
Isaac was a rules follower. No matter what, he was going to bless the firstborn son. Perhaps God placed this matter in Rebecca’s hands because she was more open-minded. She would see how the kids turned out and then determine who should lead whom. Thirty-five hundred years later, we remain a people and religion with a mandate and charge, thanks to Rebecca’s courage.
Sometimes the next move in life is unclear. It’s not scripted, and both sides have advantages and disadvantages. It’s up to us then to interpret our opportunity and make the most of it. These undefined moments are when we become the authors of our stories.
Wishing you marvelous outcomes,
Manetto Hill Jewish Center
244 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview, NY 11803