By Sharona Whisler
The Torah and its stories are there for us to take lessons from and try to relate them to our lives. This isn’t so difficult for me when it comes to Vayeitzei (a section in Genesis). The Parsha of Vayeitzei offers several references of fertility, fruitfulness, and infertility; concepts that I think about A LOT. There’s also the dynamic of close sisters, Rachel and Leah. I have a close relationship with my sister as well (although, we definitely do not share a husband…that’s totally frowned upon these days).
I remember reading Vayeitzei, picking up on G-d’s decree that Jacob’s offspring will be as many as the dust- not the first time G-d has made such a declaration by the way. Our forefathers are told by G-d on a few occasions that the Jewish People will number as many as there are grains of sand and stars in the sky. I got the idea that we have a vital role in this plan, to procreate. And what’s lucky for so many of us is that we WANT to be fruitful and multiply! So G-d has commanded us to do something that we actually want to do. Fantastic. But wait, it’s not really up to us. It’s up to G-d.
That brings me to the next part of the Vayeitzei story. Jacob meets Rachel and wants to marry her,
presumably to get this whole “building a nation” campaign rolling. AND he loved her. The parsha makes it very clear that Jacob loves Rachel. Proof- he agrees to live and work with his father-in-law for a total of 14 years in the not so glamorous family business of shepherding just to marry her. Would your husband do that? The parsha doesn’t mention anything about Rachel loving Jacob. Rachel does however make her emotions on childbearing quite clear when she says, “Give me children or I am dead.” I’ve wondered whether Rachel is so pained because she wants to contribute to this nation which will be so powerful that the world will be blessed by its presence. Or is she pained because she has a nurturing maternal instinct that needs to be fulfilled. Remember, this is our foremother Rachel we’re talking about. That line pulls at the heartstrings not just because of its honesty and desperation, but because we know Rachel has been witnessing her very fertile sister, Leah, give birth to son after son, after son, after son, after son. She negotiates with Leah and gives up a night with Jacob in exchange for her son’s “dudaim”. It’s unclear what this is but let’s just call it gonadotropins. And Rachel remains baron. It’s heartbreaking. It definitely doesn’t seem fair. For those of us who have struggled with infertility, we know this feeling so well. It’s when your sister…. or cousin or best friend tells you the news of her pregnancy. Then a few years later, you hear the news of her second pregnancy, and so on and so forth. Despite how hard you’ve been trying and everything you’ve done to make it happen, it hasn’t been so. I know this feeling well. It’s difficult to express the need to become a mother in words, but Rachel does it. Jacob doesn’t even get it. He feels inadequate and it makes him angry. She’s been all consumed in her desire to become a mother and he’s been working for years just to be with her. Isn’t he enough, he wants to know?
Rachel does have a child eventually, Joseph. When Joseph is born Rachel prays for another child. At first I thought this was surprising. Is Rachel ungrateful for this tremendous gift she’s just been blessed with? Of course she’s grateful, but being blessed with a child after such a long and difficult time doesn’t make her unworthy of wanting another.
I have found many parallels in Vayeitzei and my own personal struggle with infertility. Finding these similarities is a way for me to connect with the Torah and with Hashem. I see that my struggle is acknowledged in our holy history and since the Torah is a spiral, not a timeline, my story is part of this story. It’s my connection with Hashem that has pulled me through the hardest times and I believe there’s a way for anyone to find their story in the Torah.
For those struggling to find support in the Torah during their fertility journey, feel free to reach out to Uprooted for resources and suggestions.