During our religious education class this week, we were discussing the stories of Genesis. The amount of "what if" questions one can concoct is astounding. Each of the stories of Genesis seems to show that all movements were completely dictated. And yet, there is the belief that even then, people had free choice. Suppose Adam had simply told Eve, "No. I will not eat the forbidden fruit. No matter what you say." and he stuck to his guns. Suppose Adam never ate that fruit. What would have happened? Would he still have been evicted from the Garden of Eden, or would only Eve have been asked to leave? What would have happened to the lineage that was to come from Adam and Eve?
In parsha, L'ech L'cha, Abraham was told to "go out" from his home to a land that G-d would show him. What if Abraham had decided he was happy living in Haran and did not go? What if he chose not to move his family and all of his belongings to this unknown place? What would have happened to the Jewish people?
Everything that happened in the stories of Genesis had a purpose. We learn about kindness and blind faith from Abraham. Isaac, too, when he realizes he is to be his father's sacrifice teaches us about blind faith. (Although, I admit, I think I would have liked to hear him protest just a little bit.) We learn about deception from Rebeka and Jacob, no matter what their intentions may have been. And we learn about acting spitefully from Esau, who entered into a forbidden marriage to spite and hurt his mother. Rebeka and Isaac show us that the basis of a strong family comes from a strong marriage. They did not have a strong marriage, and ended up seeing their family torn apart. We learned from Jacob of the dangers of favoritism. Although, in Jacob's defense, he was raised in a family where favoritism played a role. Perhaps this is why he learned to favor his son, Joseph.
But, if we choose to believe that each person had and has free will, then why would they make these decisions? Could it be that they just did not see them as bad decisions? Could Rebeka really have felt that it was a good idea to deceive her husband and her older son? And to bring her younger son into the mix, as well? The Torah tells us that Rebeka and Jacob were both punished for their part in this deception. Rebeka was forced to send Jacob, her beloved and favored son, away; Esau, her older son left, and Rebeka died never seeing either of them again. Jacob was himself a victim of deception, when he met and fell in love with Rachel. He worked seven years for her hand, only to be deceived on his wedding day, and tricked into marrying Leah. Eventually, Jacob did marry Rachel, but when she deceived her father and lied about stealing the idols, she was punished with an early death. Rachel's passing hurt Jacob dearly as well.
What if Rebeka has simply talked to Isaac and explained that Jacob deserved the blessing of the firstborn? What if Jacob told Isaac that he had purchased that birthright from his brother? Would the deception have even been necessary? What if Laban had consented to Jacob's union with Rachel without tricking him into marrying Leah first? Would there still be Twelve Tribes of Israel? Would Joseph have become a favored son?
What if Joseph had not been favored? Would his brothers have felt compelled to sell him? Would we have ended up in Egypt? Would we have become slaves? And carrying the story further, what about the choices Moses made. Moses was raised by an Egyptian princess. Could he have used that power to free the slaves?
Of course, I realize that everything happens for a reason, and that perhaps free choice was involved in the decisions made by the matriarchs and patriarchs. I was once taught that we approach every situation through our own world view. Perhaps my curiousity of the actions of the patriarchs and matriarchs stems from my own world view. Perhaps, if I lived in their time, surrounded by their families, and in the midst of their situations, I would make the same choices they did. Perhaps, if they were to look into my world, through their own world view, they would questions some of the choices I have made in my life. Or if they were living in my shoes, maybe they would make the same choices.
The world of what if is an extremely interesting place.