Sunday, December 4, 2022

Parsha Vayetze - The Right Time

 Like Sarah and Rivka, the previous two generations of matriarchs, Rachel also appears unable to have children. While her sister Leah has a brood, Rachel bemoans her fate and demands Yaakov grant her children. Her husband replies harshly that he was not the one at fault or had denied her children.

But was there a reason for Rachel's condition?

If we examine the timeline, a potential answer quickly emerges. One that could have been apparent, but was not at the time.

Yaakov makes an agreement with Lavan, the father of both Rachel and Leah, to work 7 years for Rachel's hand in marriage. Lavan famously cheats Yaakov and substitutes her sister instead. He then offers to let Yaakov also marry Rachel after eight days if he works for another 7 years.

During these 7 years, Leah has seven children. It's an impressive record. During this same period, Rachel is unable to have children. 

Finally, when Yosef is born, Yaakov tells Lavan, "And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban: 'Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country."

Is it a coincidence that Yosef is born when those 14 years are up?

When Yaakov married Leah, his 7 years of working for her were free and clear. However Yaakov would only finish working for Rachel in the next 7 years during which she was unable to have children.

Until the very end.

G-d perhaps wanted the children who would form the 12 tribes to be born 'free and clear' without Lavan or anyone else being able to lay a claim to that. The notion may seem absurd to modern sensibilities, but it doesn't take long for Lavan to do just that. And in the final confrontation between the two men, Lavan heatedly declares, 'The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that thou seest is mine." (Bereishis 31:43)

G-d however had seen to it that none of the children would be born in a way that Lavan could lay any claim to them. Unlike the previous two generations, there would no Yishmael or Esav. All of the children would, despite setbacks, form the Jewish people. None of them would belong to the pagans around them.

This also explains the otherwise confusing and ambiguous process by which Yaakov becomes very wealthy by seemingly seeing to it that Lavan's flocks give birth to those kinds of animals that he chose as his wage. The underlying message is the same. The children and the animals may be born under Lavan's 'roof', on the lands of his family and the authority of his clan, but they will not be his.

G-d had separated out the children of Rachel and Leah, and the animals. Lavan would have no part in it.

When Rivka first set out to marry Yitzchak, the blessings of her family are repeated in the Torah. The Torah never writes out Lavan's blessings. Arami Oved Avi, he had tried and failed to destroy the Jewish people. He would never have his share in them.

Yaakov and Rachel suffered, not knowing why, until the right time had come. 

Parsha Toldos - The Answer to a Prayer

 Parshat Toldos begins with Yitzchak and Rivka, seemingly doomed to replay the tragedy of Avraham and Sarah by being unable to have children. The third pasuk tells us that "Yitzchak entreated G-d for his wife, for she was barren, and G-d accepted his prayer." 

While the pasuk makes no mention of Rivka praying, commentaries interpret Le'Nochach, a word in the pasuk, as meaning opposite, suggesting that they were both praying. Rashi comments that G-d accepted Yitzchak's prayer, not Rivka's, because he was the son of a tzaddik and she was the daughter of a wicked man. There are however obvious questions to be raised about this, not least of which is that it would imply that Yitzchak's prayers would be more effective than that of his own father's. 

There are a number of other answers as to why G-d might have listened to Yitzchak's prayer, rather than Rivka's. From a halachic perspective, men, not women, are obligated in the biblical command to have children. Alternatively, Yitzchak was praying for his wife, while she was praying for herself, and G-d more readily answers our prayers for others.

But the premise assumes that both Yitzchak and Rivka were praying for the same thing. Were they really?

No sooner does Rivka become pregnant that she experiences the children fighting in the womb and bemoans, "If so, why do I exist?"

As the children grow up, Rivka becomes the one who takes on the task of measuring the children, championing Yaakov, the good son, at the expense of Esav, the bad son. Yitzchak, in contrast, is extremely tolerant, not only of Esav, but also of Yaakov. When his younger son has tricked him into blessing him by pretending to be Esav, Yitzchak might have been expected to curse his son, or at least condemn him, the way that Yaakov would later berate Reuven, Levi and Shimon on his deathbed.

Instead, Yitzchak quickly states, "Let him also be blessed."

Rivka was praying, in what would become the timeless tradition of Jewish women reciting the Vezakeini prayer, for a good son, holy and righteous.

Yitzchak however prayed only for a son.

G-d answered Yitzchak's prayer, not Rivka's. 

Rivka initially assumed that G-d had answered her prayer. Faced with the internal discord, she agonized, unable to understand why G-d would have apparently answered her prayer only to deny her what she was truly praying for. And yet G-d, in a crucial way, had answered the prayer. Just not in the way she expected.

Yitzchak's uncritical prayer was answered uncritically. Rivka found that the answer to her more complicated prayer was also more complicated. Both parents had an important role to play. Yitzchak brought children into the world and loved them. Rivka provided the discipline and judgement to choose between good and evil.

Our prayers sometimes can be for basic things. Other times we want things our way. 

G-d answers our prayers, or does not, in the way that He knows best.