2 Kislev 5783
Rejoice, O barren one!
Isaiah 54:1 says: “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the LORD.”
Today, many of us wonder, where is God? Why does He allow humanity to go so astray and even to mock Him? Why does He hide His face from His people? I have seen how people who have just been put to shame, how the upright have not prospered, and that the fervent-hearted have not yet “inherited” the land.
Culturally at the time of the patriarchs, being a barren woman was a symbol of the impossibility of fulfilling the role of motherhood within society, because there was no continuity of descent for the tribe, for the clan. This position of authority of having their children under their care, gave the woman a certain social status, power, economic protection, in addition to elevating the name of her husband.
We begin this portion with: “And these are the “toldot” of Yitzchak ben Avraham: Avraham fathered Yitzchak” and at this point the text deliberately pauses, because the line of their descendants is severed. It should continue after the sentence “fathered Isaac with “and these are the sons of Isaac…”, however, the text pauses clearly on purpose to indicate that there was a problem, perhaps not genetic, but rather spiritual or of the soul which is linked to this sterility.
There is a woman in my country who had at least three abortions that I know of and after several years of medical treatment it became impossible for her to have children, so she decided to adopt a child. In the span of less than a year, she became pregnant and is now the mother of three.
Bereshit 25:20 says, “and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-Aram and sister of Lavan the Aramean.” If we analyze these texts referring to Isaac, they emphasize that he was Abraham’s son, while in the case of Rivka, Bethuel and Lavan, her predecessors were apparently idolatrous and immoral men who had passed down, even subtly, these flaws to Rivka. Experts say that we humans learn from what we see and from what our parents teach us, more than from any other source. We will believe family superstitions, rather than accepting true, concrete facts or what even a scientist tells us. Here are some examples that we tend to disguise as cultural beliefs with no rationality, things like the evil eye, pulling our ears when someone sneezes, knocking on wood, breaking a mirror, bringing eggs and oil when we move, etc. So, we can’t expect Rivka to be the woman who, automatically by marrying Isaac, would have earned the merit of being the mother of Israel at an age when she was barren; she would need to go through a process.
From the moment the servant took her to Sarah’s tent, I don’t believe that Rivka automatically believed in the God of Abraham and Isaac. There was no such miracle of “conversion.” Our RANEBI repeated to us that believing in God is a process. “Conversion” to a religion is not equivalent to having a “relationship” with the Eternal. It is not hocus-pocus, coming out of nowhere where one second later we are another person rather it is something miraculous. From what I read, it seems that Rivka needed this pause to experience her process of change and to abandon her family traditions. We might think that between one line of the text and the next, a fraction of a second had passed, but in reality, it was 20 years before she would be ready to be the mother of two great nations.
Can you imagine a couple today in the 21st century, in our Western society where a couple, after being married for several years, unable to have children, at gatherings with family, friends, neighbors or acquaintances, are asked by indiscreet people: “When are you going to have a baby?” or “have you thought of having children?” Do you have a problem? Or they simply feel everyone’s gaze upon them when others come with their babies or children and they still don’t have children. If this couple feels uncomfortable, imagine how Rivka and Isaac felt after 20 years of being barren? They were twenty years of suffering, pain, anguish, impotence, anger, discouragement, tears, sadness, depression, courage, among the many human feelings that we can imagine.
From this I can draw several life lessons which are applicable for us today: First, Isaac and Rivka’s marriage was truly a commitment; the Torah does not indicate that Isaac’s love for Rivka fell away. Today’s couples tend to divorce for the tiniest nonsense imaginable, such as “we are incompatible”, “he/she is sick”, “I feel like I don’t love her”, etc. What an example we can follow from our patriarchs! Second, we must handle various difficulties with others in love, and this implies that our silence on many occasions is our best expression of this virtue. And silence should be both verbal and non-verbal. It is easy to fall into Lashon Hara when we see the misfortune of another, without thinking that tomorrow we could be in that position.
I cannot tell you how many times I have thrown my words to Heaven, and they have bounced back! Or expressions in which I judged others for their actions in moments of weakness, and then swallowed my judgment because I have made the same mistake; for example, by saying “I wouldn’t do that”; “I would have acted differently”; “That is inconceivable”; “that is Evil!”; etc. And do you know what I learned? The source of all these evils came from trusting in man (pride, in ME) and not in the Eternal. For this reason, God led me to eat grass like Nebuchadnezzar so that I know that being a beast – controlled by my animal part – I must be humble, to speak, to act, to control myself before passing judgment. Today, despite having done teshuva in these cases, I’ve learned the hard way. Third, we must not make the mistake of trying to solve things on our own. Isaac saw the consequences in the story of Ishmael and decided not to make the same mistake as his parents, thinking that his son would come from a woman other than Rivka. Instead, he was an example of Bitachon, believing and trusting that the Eternal would give him offspring through his wife.
Returning to the story, the age difference between Rivka and Isaac who was her uncle, caused certain miscommunication and relationship problems, as we’ll see later. I have known couples like that, and after being together for 20, 25, 30, 35 years they developed serious problems, even simple ones like, one wants to go to sleep while the other wants to go out to the movies. I hope that this advice will serve young people, to not choose a partner with a large difference in age; it is not wise, because in the present you may see that they have an abundance of energy but visualize what your future would be like in 20 years.
Quite a bit of time had passed between verses 20 and 21 which begins with: “Vaye’etar Yitzchak l’Adonai… And Yitzchak prayed to the LORD on behalf of his isha (woman, who also prayed), because she was barren; and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rivka his isha conceived.” According to Rashi, the prayer indicated that this verse Vaye’etar Yitzchak l’Adonai came from the root vayetar, which is related to abundance, it is like saying: “And he prayed abundantly with insistence.” Again, he could have prayed insistently, but he was not heard until he prayed in front of Rivka.
What was the purpose of this? That Isaac be a light for Rivka! What is the use of being anonymous all your life? We must show our inner Light to others. In this case, the purpose was for Rivka to come to trust in the Eternal and observe that there is no god outside of Him, just as 1 Samuel 2:2 expresses: ““There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides You; there is no Rock like our God”. Or in Tehillim 18:31: “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?”
I have come to know Rivka through this experience and that the LORD is the Bore Olam, the Creator of life, the One true God, the one who opens the womb of an infertile woman, and is the God who listens, who responds, and sees from afar. It is not for us to know why the Eternal gives to some who are impious as well as to those who are upright. He may not give them their inheritance in this life, but it is worth remembering what Tehillim 37:2 says, “for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away”. Let us be wise, for it says in this same chapter, verses 5-8 “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this. He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil”.
I believe that Rivka and Isaac put their lives in the LORD’s hands and trusted Him, and He came to their aid. His answer was not one son, but two, with two opposing natures. She got over her stigma, and Isaac was able to see his father’s promise come true.
Today, if we have been barren in any area of our life, economically, socially, personally, health wise, mentally, whatever it is, this Shabbat let us rejoice to see things in their fullness by trusting that the Eternal will help us and do what is best for us, even if the end result is not what we want. Remember this expression: “God is good to His people” (Ps. 73:1).