Midreshet Amit


Back to Main Page

Rachel's Prayer

By: Rabbi Jonathan Duker

The following factors either certainly or possibly played a role in the series of events that resulted in Yaakov marrying two sisters: a manipulative father in law, thick wedding veils, Mesopotamian marriage customs, an identification system based on secret passwords, poor lighting. Regardless of how it came to be, Yaakov being simultaneously married to both the elder sister Leah and the younger sister Rachel worked out about as smoothly as one would expect. In Parshat Vayetzei , the rivalry between the sisters/co- wives leads to the following exchange between Rachel and Yaakov (Bereishit 30:1-2) "Rachel was aware that she had not borne children for Yaakov and became jealous of her sister; she then said to Yaakov 'Give me children, otherwise I am dead. Yaakov was angry at Rachel and said 'Am I in God's place that I withheld children from you?'"

Rashi's reading of this exchange is brutal. Basing himself of the Midrash, Rashi interprets that Rachel is voicing her displeasure at Yaakov for not praying on her behalf, thus implying a lack of care by her husband. Yaakov, in turn, denies culpability by accusing Rachel of being the source the troubles, for he already is a father of four. It is only her who is without children.

Ramban voices his astonishment at this reading, especially regarding apparent insensitivity ascribed to Yaakov, as Ramban asks "It is difficult to understand what the Midrash is saying… Do tzadikkim not pray on behalf of other people?"

Perhaps this exchange could be better understood in light of a story told about Reb Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, quoted below as it appears in Elie Wiesel's book Souls on Fire.

A farmer and his wife pleaded with him to intercede on their behalf. "We are childless; we want a son." - "Very well," said the Maggid. "That will be fifty-two rubles [fifty-two being the numerical value of ben, the Hebrew word for son]." The couple bargained, offered half. To no avail. The Maggid would not budge: "You want me to pray for you? Then you must pay the price." Finally the peasant became angry, and turning to his wife, he said: "Let's go home, we'll manage without him, we'll say our own prayers and God will help us without charge!" "So be it." The Maggid said, and smiled.

Rachel was raised in the pagan house of Laban and hence may have assumed that in matters of religion she should defer to her husband whose spiritual pedigree included Abraham and Isaac. Thus she may have assumed that it was Yaakov's role to prayer for her while she could remain inert. Yaakov, for his part, was not refusing to pray on her behalf, rather he was seeking to communicate that it is God, not him, who has the ultimate say so she share the spiritual responsibility for their joint troubles and pray as well. As Ramban writes, "Once when Rachel understood that she could not only depend on Jacob's prayer, she went and prayed for herself to the One Who Listens to Cries, and then it is written 'God listened to her.'"

We should all be blessed with the awareness to know that we could all approach the One Who Listens to Cries at anytime regardless of our shortcomings, be they real or imagined.