Monday, December 04, 2006

why Ya'akov did not daven for Rachel to have children

Rachel reacted to her inability to have children while by beseeching Ya’akov Avinu to daven for her. Rather than respond with compassion, Ya’akov turns her away and refuses. How, asks the Ramban, are we to understand Ya’akov’s refusal to daven for his own wife when in Tanach we find tzadikim who opened their hearts to daven for women who were complete strangers? The Taz answers that tefillah has the power to overcome spiritual obstacles like a gezeirah preventing a person from having children. Rachel, however, was physically unable to have children – Chazal tell us she was born without a uterus. Correcting this situation required not just overturning a gezeirah, but a “beriyah yesh m’ain”, a completely new act of creation, and according to the Taz, that lies outside the scope of what tefillah can accomplish. This is what Ya’akov meant in responding “Hatachas Elokim anochi”, “Am I in place of G-d” – the necessary remedy in this case was outside the scope of a tzadik’s power, but rested only in G-d’s hands. What this tells us about the nature of tefillah is discussed by my wife on her blog, so I will just add one additional point. In light of this Taz we can better understand Moshe Rabeinu’s response to Korach’s rebellion – “Im briya yivra Hashem…”, if Hashem will create a new opening in the earth to punish Korach, it proves definitively the error of the rebellion. Had Korach been punished through some change of the natural order, one might conclude that the punishment was a result of Moshe’s power as a tzadik to redirect nature. However, if the punishment comes through a new creation, this could only be a response directly from Hashem, as it is not something within the scope of a tzadik’s power to bring about.


  1. Bill Selliger11:57 AM

    the punishment was a result of Moshe’s power as a tzadik to redirect nature

    Please elaborate and clarify your conception of how tefilla works. Can tefilla effect changes that God does not "want" to make happen? If not, I don't understand your proof from Korach. If yes, please provide some detail on the mechanics of the process.

  2. Your question is the topic of my wife's post. My 2 cents: Tefilah changes the ability of the recipient to receive hashpa'ah from Hashem. For example, you might be thirsty for water - even if Hashem makes it rain, you still need a bucket to collect the water in. Tefillah enlarges the bucket. The Taz is saying if you have no bucket to begin with, tefilah is not going to help.
    Can tefilah effect changes that Hashem does not want? Hashem allows for bechira. I don't see a difference between the question of "If Hashem wants me to be sick how can a doctor heal me" and the question of "If Hashem wants me to be sick how does my tefilah help". However you deal with the former issue, you can also deal with the latter.

  3. Bill Selliger12:17 PM

    Okay, so let's bring this full circle, and explain your proof from Korach. Why is it any more of a punishment if Moshe "enlarged the bucket" or not? Either way, God "wanted" to punish Korach.

  4. How do you know G-d wanted to punich Korach? Just like a doctor can use medicine to cure or kill, Moshe could use tefillah to help or harm - had Korach gotten some other punishment, e.g. suddenly come down with a plague, one might have argued that Korach was not proven wrong and punished by G-d, he was just struck down by the prayers of Moshe. To take it to an extreme, had Moshe pulled out a gun and shot Korach, that would not necessarily indicate that G-d thought Korach was wrong. Since we see Korach's punishment was a berya chadasha that could only come as a direct expression of G-d's will and not through any power of Moshe, we know that it was yad Hashem only and not Moshe pointing his tefillah "gun" at Korach and pulling the trigger.
    (See R' Elchanan at the end of Koveitz He'Oros regarding whether I have the power to kill someone who does not have a gezeirah min hashamayim against them.)

  5. Without resorting to "new creations"--I always understood Jacob's answer to mean something like "I can pray, but that doesn't mean G-d will listen to me"--I learned as a kid a general principle that prayers for the needs of others are answered more readily than prayers for the needs of oneself, because of the selfish motives involved in the latter. (Although I suppose it's possible to pray without selfish motives--"Master of the Universe, please give me X because Ploni needs me to have X.")
    To apply it for the case of Jacob and Rachel, Jacob had less certainty of his prayer being answered than if he had been praying to relieve the barreness of someone else's wife.

  6. I think your answer fits the Mizrachi's approach.

  7. HarmonicJew11:08 PM

    Is it possible for you to give the sources of the
    A) Chazal about Rachel w/o a uterus
    B) The Taz


  8. The Taz is in Divrei David on the pasuk 30:1. He quotes the Chazal - I don't have the sefer with me so will bl'n have to try to get back to you with an exact mareh makom.

  9. HarmonicJew10:31 PM

    Thanx, because I was discussing it with someone, and they watned to see the source.

  10. The notes to the Taz point to Braishis Rabbah 47:2 as the source for the biologocal problem, but in actuality the Midrash there is addressing Sarah. I guess one could argue all the imahos shared the same defect - se Yevamos 64, but this would seem to be a weak point in the Taz's argument.