Rivkah Imeinu had a very dramatic pregnancy. The posuk informs us, “And the twins ran (and wrestled) inside of her.” The Medrash, as cited by Rashi, elaborates that whenever she passed a Beis HaMedrash/study hall, Yaakov attempted to run out. When she passed by a place of idolatry, Esav lurched forward. This behavior calls for interpretation. We can readily understand why Esav wanted to indulge in forbidden idolatry. But why would Yaakov want to leave the environment of the womb, which as taught in the Gemara in Tractate Niddah, is a place where a celestial angel teaches the fetus all of the Torah. Why would he want to leave this cocoon to go out to a Beis HaMedrash to study with mere human beings?
The Chasam Sofer, zt”l, and a host of others give the explanation that even if you could learn from an angel, it’s not worth it if you are exposed to the toxicity of a bad neighbor. Thus, Yaakov Avinu wanted to escape as soon as possible from being in such close quarters with the wicked Esav. This lesson highlights the danger of being influenced by one’s environment and reminds us of the importance to choose our friends and associates wisely.
Another answer is given: Yaakov wanted to begin as soon as possible the mission of ameilus baTorah, toiling in learning. For this reason we forget the learning that we are taught by the malach, since we don’t work for it at all. This is also the explanation they give for why we don’t stand up when a pregnant woman enters the room. For although the fetus is studying Torah, since there is no work involved, we don’t stand up for such study.
Yet others explain that Yaakov wanted to begin “to learn in order to do,” and also “to learn in order to teach.” Both of these would only be possible after he left the womb. Indeed, in the verse “Adam l’amal yulad – Man was created to toil,” the word l’amal is an acronym for lilmod al menas l’lameid and lilmod al menas laasos.
There is another interesting angle to these pre-natal events. We can readily understand that Esav’s yetzer hara, which caused him to want to exit prematurely to go to a place of idol worship, was not concerned about the fact that if he were to leave the womb early he would die. That is consistent with the behavior of the yetzer hara, who tempts people to indulge in behaviors such as smoking, overeating, drinking and the like although these pleasures can be lethal for the individual. But why would Yaakov Avinu want to leave to a Beis HaMedrash when such an exit could cause his early demise? One suggestion is that this was also due to the wiles of the yetzer hara, which sometimes comes in the guise of a mitzvah prompting young Yaakov to want to leave early in order to study Torah. This is a common practice of the yetzer hara: To get people to sin thinking that they’re doing a mitzvah. As, for example, justifying embarrassing someone publically because you think it is a mitzvah to do so.
But there is another question. The Gemara teaches us that Rebbe agreed with Antoninus, that the yetzer hara only comes into a person when he exits the womb. Therefore, why would Esav want to leave to the place of idol worship while still in the womb? Therefore, I’d like to propose a novel interpretation: These pre-natal pains of Rivka were not from actual intentions of Yaakov and Esav but rather to give her the experience that would cause her to go to Shem and ask him what the message was. This would clue her in that the older one would serve the younger and give her the advance knowledge to orchestrate Yaakov’s stealing of the blessings from Esav many years later.
May it be the will of Hashem that we recognize that the yetzer hara is our true enemy and does not wish us well, and that we should be able to avoid his machinations throughout our lives.