Rabbi Miriam's Blog
Rebekah was the second of five Hebrew women in early biblical times who were declared barren, but later in life they were all able to conceive and give birth. They all gave birth to boys were destined by God to become leaders of the Hebrews. The women were: Sarah – Abraham’s wife, who gave birth to Isaac; Rebekah – Isaac’s wife, who gave birth to the twins Esau and Jacob, Rachel – Jacob’s wife, who gave birth to Joseph; Monah’s wife – who gave birth to Samson; Hannah – Elkanah’s wife, who gave birth to Samuel the prophet. Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, though, belonged to a single family – Abraham’s family.
When an ancient tribe or a nation memorialized its history, it usually refrained from committing its shortcomings to ink. Instead, they turned every molehill into a mammoth mountain to exaggerate its accomplishments. Why did the Hebrew leaders act differently? Weren’t they concerned that they might be labeled “imperfect” or “defective”, not only by their own followers, but also by their enemies? Their enemies would gladly find this as yet another reason, in addition to the Hebrews being monotheists, to annihilate them.
Since the Bible, as a whole, was intended to teach the Hebrews, and subsequently the Jews, life lessons, perhaps “barrenness” was used as a metaphor or a representation for something remarkable, usually something positive, that was supposed to follow for an individual when things didn’t seem to working out. The expression: “the calm before the storm” or the calm coming after the storm could apply here.
Barrenness, though, was regarded then only as “negative”, and was a reason for great concern to the women in Abraham’s extended family and to his descendants. Women were under constant and enormous pressures to produce male heirs to become their future leaders. The women, however were all fully aware that since grandma, and great-grandma Sarah’s time, all the wives who had been labeled as barren, through the mercy of G-d – were able to conceive and give birth to boys who became leaders.
There are two important messages in the story. The first message reassures me that the condition of “barrenness” can happen to women and men, rich and poor, influential people and common people, but it is a reversible condition. The second message is a cautionary one. If the desired wishes come in abundance such as having more than one child at a time, getting rich too fast, and other similar situations, the happiness could turn into tragedy. Let us remember Cain and Able, Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau.
Therefore, the lesson I learned from the Bible on the subject of “barrenness” is that it represents just about anything “barren” that we experience (internally or externally) and we cannot “cultivate” it for the purpose of seeing “the fruits of our whether in having a relationship with another person, finding a desired job, getting education, having children, etc.
Since G-d was the catalyst who brought about the changes in the wives’ condition, I take it that with situations that mirror it, where we only limited control, for whatever reason, a certain percentage of “blind trust” must enter our equation, while our effort must persist relentlessly. The “blind trust” is the belief that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1.) In due time, through our own sincere efforts, and because of our deep trust in the teaching of the Bible, we will advance, mature, and therefore progress further towards their desired noble goals. That said, it does not mean that every aspect of every desired goal will be fully achieved in one’s life time.
Our sages commented on such a possibility by saying “It is not your responsibility to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it. (Pirkei Avot 2:21)“ There must be reciprocity. Yet, one thing is certain; that individuals who follow the teachings of the Bible will be able to declare proudly that they have given their best efforts to “cultivate their goals, and move happily ahead to cultivate new ones”. Ken Yehi Ratzon.
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.