Last week’s tale featured a traumatized Isaac mysteriously recreating in the bushes (thank you, readers, for your many odd suggestions as to what he was REALLY doing there) and meeting his bride, Rebecca, as she swoons off her camel. This week’s episode moves on with the breeding agenda as the next generation of patriarchs enters the stage: Jacob and Esau. So complex is this tale of the first pair of twins in history and their fateful struggle, that a word is invented to explain the act of trying to comprehend the nature of duality. This word, DRASH, appearing this week for the first time, is the primary investigative technique in Jewish intellectual history. And who is the first person to actively use Drash as a tool for deeper understanding? A very pregnant Rebecca, matriarch to be, mother of meaning making, possibly the pioneer of Jewish scholarship. So, what is it that she does exactly?
Chapter 25 in Genesis opens this week’s tale, TOLDOT – ORIGINS, tersely narrating the much-awaited pregnancy: Rebecca carrying the heir/s of Abraham’s dynasty. She is carrying twins, but she doesn’t know it, and as they kick in different directions, she is aware of struggle and puzzled by its meaning. Verse 22: ‘The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD’. Genesis 25:22 KJV
The Hebrew action word we are fascinated by, being drash junkies ourselves, is LIDROSH, translated here as TO INQUIRE. Other translations suggest ‘to Supplicate’ ‘to Demand’ or ‘to Seek’. What is intriguing here is not only the act itself – but also the journey that goes with it. What does it mean for a biblical woman to go and seek answers from the divine? How does one, then and now, go to solved existential dilemma that steer one’s insides in different, conflicting directions? WHO AM I, asks Rebecca, WHY ME? Her midrash-making is a bold question, a demanding plea, a mother’s insistence on clarity, and a human quest for divine truth. Some commentaries say she went to a yeshiva, to consult the local sage (Shem, son of Noah, mythic father of the Semites, and apparently ageless) some say she went to the old women of the tribe, some say she went to Abraham, some, to an oracle. The 17th century rabbi Shlomo Efraim of Prague, known for his biblical commentary Kli Yakar, gives Rebecca’s drash action a startling existential spin: She went out to seek the identity of God, and learn the nature of life’s meaning.
Frankly, we are more interested in the question than in the answer, focused on the act of seeking. And while the different English translations help us to attain a glimpse into what MIDRASH may mean, it is to the extra terrestrial lingo that we turn for assistance. There is a word that comes from Mars that perhaps best explains what Midrash means, and that word is GROK.
GROK, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a verb enabling one to ‘understand profoundly and intuitively’. “Grok” was introduced in Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 science fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land”. The book’s main character is a Martian-raised human who comes to earth as an adult, bringing with him words from his native tongue and a unique perspective on the strange, strange ways of earthlings. To GROK something means to either understand it fully or – to drink it, thus becoming one with the other. So, assisted by aliens, Lauviticus describe the wonderful art of midrash thus:
‘The boys wrestled within her; and she said, “If this is life, why do I live?” and she went to grok God. Genesis 25:22 KJV
And you, dear reader, where do YOU go when two roads diverge in the wood of life and clarity is sought?