Infertility of the Matriarchs
Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: I am working on a project with the intention that it should be for "the masses" --Jews and non-Jews. with that in mind, I
realized that I'm not completely clear on how to understand certain ma'amarei chazal. The problem I'm hitting is that it's not clear why chazal's interpretation is more "correct" than whatever a person decides to make up.

Mesora: The authors certainly know their intended meanings, while readers must decipher what they wrote. Of course the
authors are 100% correct in what their own metaphors mean. This cannot be otherwise!



Reader: Without going into the fundamentals of the mesora, I thought the ma'amar itself, if I could unlock the wisdom, would teach a concept that clearly illustrates a system of wisdom. Which leads me to my problem: I am studying the issue of
infertility and how the Torah gives us insight into how to approach it. (As a subcategory of how the Torah addresses
any punishments). Three out of four of the matriarchs were infertile. Here's what I have. Before we discuss how these three
women coped with their infertility, I have some questions: Was there a purpose to the infertility of the Matriarchs?

Mesora: Chazal say they were barren because "God's loves the prayers of the righteous." I understand this to mean that God
loves the reflection and perfection (i.e., tefila) of the righteous (matriarchs). God "loving" such an action means God's
desire is human perfection. Perhaps in general, a woman starts off with her own relationship to children, whether she is a mother yet or not. Being barren allows a woman the opportunity to reflect on that exact issue, "Why do I go barren? Is there something awry in my relationship to children that God has punished me in this specific area?" Such reflection may direct a woman to considering her emotions in this area, and hopefully, leading her to realize her flaw not in line with the Torah's philosophy.


Reader: If there is a purpose to their infertility, why wasn't Leah, one of the Matriarchs, afflicted with it?

Mesora: It seems Leah too was infertile. The Torah says that God opened her womb, implying she was barren prior to God's act
of "opening" her womb.



Reader: Assuming there was a particular purpose for the infertility of the Matriarchs, can that purpose apply to me if my
infertility is not Providentially determined, but rather a result of the laws of nature?

Mesora: Since Chazal state that the matriarchs were in fact infertile due to God's providence, if you experienced infertility
naturally, it cannot compare to the matriarchs' infertility. But, be mindful, you do not know if you are receiving some
pain via nature, or a trial through God's will. The Talmud in Berachos teaches that one should look into themselves if they experience pain. This means it may be from God.



Reader: Methodically speaking, it would make sense if we could establish that Leah, too, was susceptible to infertility.
However, because of an external factor, she was not subject to it. Then we can explore the Matriarchs as a category
of women subject to infertility.

I found some sources that discuss why Leah was not infertile.

Bereshis Raba 71:2. When Yaakov Avinu saw what happened [Lavan's deception], he had in mind to divorce her; and when Hashem remembered her with children, Yaakov said, "Can I divorce the mother of these?" Is this to be taken literally?

Mesora: Yes, unless we can't take something literally due to impossible circumstances, why not understand this literally? A Rabbi was much against a metaphorical interpretation of the snake in Genesis. He said, "If you take the snake as metaphor, then why not Adam and Eve? Everything can be metaphoric." That would destroy the Torah. This Rabbi had no problem understanding the snake as a "missing link", something that was not man, but had speech. A real beast.

Reader: Was Yaakov planning to divorce Leah? Did he wait out the month to see if she was pregnant? But the chazal saying
"mother of these" implies that Yaakov kept having children with her while he was unsure. Therefore it seems it can't be literal. So what is the idea? And is it a valid deduction that Leah can be included in the category of infertile matriarchs--because she would have been infertile as well except for the external factor of Hashem's mercy in her situation?


Mesora: The Rabbi once mentioned that Leah never gained the love of Yaakov. She was unsatisfied regarding her wish for his love. When Chazal write, it is not only in metaphor, but they also write comments on Biblical personalities to convey their values, emotions, etc. Perhaps there was a Mesora on Yaakov's dissatisfaction with Leah, who tricked him. Perhaps there wasn't. I don't know. Either way, Chazal intended to convey some position of Yaakov vis a vis Leah.

These issues will be explored further in the upcoming book "Infertility in the Bible: A Rational Approach"