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Rashi (Bereishis 25:22) quotes the Midrash:

ויתרוצצו. עַ"כָּ הַמִּקְרָא הַזֶּה אוֹמֵר דָּרְשֵׁנִי, שֶׁסָּתַם מַה הִיא רְצִיצָה זוֹ וְכָתַב אִם כֵּן לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי? רַבּוֹתֵינוּ דְּרָשׁוּהוּ לְשׁוֹן רִיצָה; כְּשֶׁהָיְתָה עוֹבֶרֶת עַל פִּתְחֵי תּוֹרָה שֶׁל שֵׁם וָעֵבֶר יַעֲקֹב רָץ וּמְפַרְכֵּס לָצֵאת, עוֹבֶרֶת עַל פֶּתַח עֲבוֹדַת אֱלִילִים, עֵשָׂו מְפַרְכֵּס לָצֵאת. דָּבָר אַחֵר מִתְרוֹצְצִים זֶה עִם זֶה וּמְרִיבִים בְּנַחֲלַת שְׁנֵי עוֹלָמוֹת. ויתרצצו AND [THE CHILDREN] STRUGGLED — You must admit that this verse calls for a Midrashic interpretation since it leaves unexplained what this struggling was about and it states that she exclaimed “If it be so, wherefore did I desire this” (i.e. she asked whether this was the normal course of child-bearing, feeling that something extraordinary was happening). Our Rabbis explain that the word ויתרוצצו has the meaning of running, moving quickly: whenever she passed by the doors of the Torah (i. e. the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever) Jacob moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth, but whenever she passed by the gate of a pagan temple Esau moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth (Bereishis Rabbah 63:6).

It is more understandable why Esav had an inborn nature to run after avodah zarah while in the womb (though is worth it's own separate question), but why would Yaakov Avinu rather learn in the Yeshiva with Shem and Ever than with his angel? I would have thought an angel specifically sent by Hashem to teach you Torah would be better than any human teacher who might not know the answer to every question, have unlimited patience, etc. (I've heard the answer about not wanting to be Esav's chavrusah, but I haven't found that source.)

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  • What is the thrust of your question? To you it is obvious that it would be better to learn with an angel, what's your reasoning
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 17:18
  • @RabbiKaii Thank you for clarifying. I revised the question to ask what I thought was assumed.
    – NJM
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 17:22

3 Answers 3

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One of my rabbeim in the late 90s explained that midrash as follows.

As is well-known, the functions of Yaakov and Eisav at the time of their birth were as follows. Eisav had to connect the physical reality in its desire to realize G-d's Will (we call this melech sometimes, as Rashi writes that melech is achad haam, unites the people). Yaakov had to be completely concentrated on his learning, connecting the lower, more physical reality, to its source in the spiritual world (this is parallel to being a kohen gadol who according to R' Yehuda in Sanhedrin 2:1 is so spiritual that he can never leave the premises of the Temple).

In this sense, the drives of the children in the womb are to realize themselves. The realization of Eisav comes from "converting" the avoda-zarniks of his day to monotheism, like Avraham in some sense, -- so it is logical for him to run to houses of idol-worship to bring back the people therein.

The realization of Yaakov comes from connecting the lower to the upper, which really can only be done by learning in this world, not in the womb, as there one remains basically a spiritual entity and has a minimal effect uplifting the physical world (hence learning with an angel is in this sense les functional than learning with a real teacher).

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My rabbi actually brought this up when we were struggling with a hard Gemara and he said like this:

Yes, in the womb Yaakov had everything. All his needs were provided for and he was taught the entire Torah by an angel! You can’t get any better than that.

But the problem is there’s no struggle. Yaakov was being spoon fed the Torah and knowledge but that’s not stimulating, and you don’t feel like you’ve earned it. When you toil and struggle to understand a Daf of Gemara, using all your effort to khop it, and then it all finally clicks into place, that feeling is unmatchable. Yaakov wanted to experience the liveliness and energy of a Beis Midrash, struggling with his peers to understand what’s going on, accepting the fact that it’s hard, and then after resolving his conflicts. In the womb he was getting the Torah with no effort, but you only truly value something when you struggle for it

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I think you can answer as follows:

1). It was because his soul had affinity to Torah, he wanted to be born in a place of Torah. Not necessarily to learn there over the angel; rather to connect to that place at birth. Likely so he would always be in such a holy place. (Rashi does not say to learn there, just that he wanted to be born there).

2). Perhaps Yaakov knew the angel would make him forget, so being born so he can learn Torah that he will remember, even if of lower quality was more valuable.

3). Perhaps you are not taught all of Torah, but only your Chelek (ie: your ideas) in Torah. If so, perhaps he felt that learning other's Torah to reach beyond only his portion would be more valuable.

4). Perhaps all Torah he would learn (beyond just his own ideas) would be taught, but before he was born there was Torah he would not be able to learn later.

5). Perhaps he wanted to be connected to the transmission of Shem and Eiver to be closer to the connection of Adam HaRishon and the Mesorah.

6). Yaakov would eventually leave his parents and learn in Shem and Eiver for 14 years, before marrying having a family and reaching the level of "Yisrael" not just "Yaakov". Perhaps it was specifically this Yeshiva his soul knew would be such a journey it wanted to start now.

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