In this week’s sidra however we are not dealing with the usual case of one baby at a time, but of twins who not only moved but, according to the conventional translation, struggled (Gen. 25:22).
The Hebrew word is vayit’rotz’tzu, which may derive from a root that means to crush.
According to one of the explanations which Rashi gives to the verse, the two babies squashed each other in the confined space of their mother’s womb and Rivkah could hardly bear the discomfort.
Rashi adds a midrashic idea that the struggle between the unborn children presages the events of a later time when they would be constant rivals.
In this sense the Hebrew word derives from a root that means to run. Utilising the aggadic tradition (B’reshit Rabbah 63), Rashi says that whenever Rivkah passed the Bet Midrash of Shem and Ever, Yaakov struggled to leave the womb and go and study Torah; but when she passed a place of idolatrous worship, it was Esav who wanted to get out.
In this way the characteristics of their later lives were already obvious before they were born. In time Yaakov would be “a quiet man dwelling in tents” whilst Esav would be a macho “cunning hunter”.
In a broader sense, the story symbolises the opposing directions in which human beings are constantly pulled – to God and to idolatry, to holiness and secularism, to good and evil.
Every moment of their life, a person has to be alert and to decide where to direct their footsteps.