Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Toldot
To dedicate this lesson

Barrenness & Baronesses


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Cheshvan 26 5776
So you think you got problems?! Well, they may very well pale in comparison to the trials and tribulations that were experienced by the Avot and Imahot throughout their turbulent lives.

One of those trials was the fact that all of the Matriarchs were barren (even Leah; it was only because she was unloved by Yakov that Hashem, as an act of chesed, "opened her womb" and blessed her with many children).

But what was the underlying, "cosmic" reason for Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah being initially unable to bear children?

The classic answer given by the Midrash is that "Hashem desires the conversations and prayers of the righteous." Because of their great struggle to give birth, and the intense anxiety it caused them, these women were moved to reach out to Hashem in powerful, plaintive pleas that reached all the way to the Heavens. This process of seeking G-d and appealing to His Mida of mercy invariably created a much stronger bond with the Almighty, which, when all is said & done, is what He desires from each one of us.

But Chazal offer another fascinating reason for the barrenness. You see, All four of these great women were the products of an idolatrous
environment. Sara was the daughter of Charan; Rivka the daughter of Betuel, and Leah & Rachel the daughters of Lavan. A less than auspicious yichus (genealogy), to be sure.

Now, in most cases, there is a genetic dynamic that works its way through the generations from grandparent to parent to child. Not only on the physical level, but moral, ethical and significant personality traits are also passed down & contribute towards shaping the latest product of the family.

But if this were to have been true in the case of the Matriarchs, their offspring would have had an automatic "handicap" - namely, their predecessors’ unsavory habits - that might have hindered their becoming the next leaders of Am Yisrael.

And, so, the genetic train was "derailed," and the women were made incapable of continuing the direct line of reproduction. Only after they prayed and "transformed" themselves – as prayer has the power to do – did they become "new" creations who could now bear children and
keep the line going, but in a much more pristine fashion. This, then, was the higher reason behind their initial failure to conceive.

One of the primary lessons which we can learn from this amazing idea is that lack of a "pedigree" is never an impediment to rising to greatness. While some people may, indeed, be the latest installment in a long chain of distinguished ancestors, others can create their own dynasties, starting with.....themselves! And sometimes, it is precisely these special individuals, who "come out of nowhere" – Resh
Lakish, Rabbi Akiva and Theodore Herzl are just three that come to mind – who show all the others the way to go.
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