Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Barren Woman

Disclaimer: This is a purely literary review based on my opinion. Using no outside sources.

Barren Woman is a repeated theme throughout the Bible. Sara and Rachel were two matriarchs that had to wait many years till they were able to have children. They had started off as barren woman, then G-d opened their wombs and allowed them to have children.

Sara, Genesis 16:

Sara, Abraham’s wife was barren for many years. She suggested to Abraham to take Hagar her Egyptian maidservant as a wife, and perhaps through her she will be built up. Then once Hagar conceived her view of her mistress, Sara, had changed, and she now viewed her as lower. Sara dealt harshly with Hagar and Hagar fled. Hagar was in the desert and found a spring of water. An angel appeared to her then and told her to return to her mistress and to submit herself to Sara’s ruling. The angel promised Hager that her offspring will increase and she will give birth to a son and name him Ishmael since Hashem has heard her prayer. The angel told Hager that her son will be a wild man and will always fight against everyone, and everyone will fight with him. Hagar returned and gave birth and named her son Ishmael, and Abraham was 86 at that time.

Rachel, Genesis 30:

Rachel, one of Jacob’s wives saw that she was barren and gave Billhah, her maid, to Jacob to take as a wife so that she may be built up through her. Billhah had 2 sons, then Leah, Rachel’s sister, Jacob’s other wife, saw that she had stopped giving birth. So she gave Jacob Zilpah, her maidservant to be his wife. Zilpah then had 2 sons. Reuben, Leah’s son had given some of his dudaim to Rachel, and in exchange Leah got to sleep with Jacob. Leah then gave birth to a 5th and 6th son and a daughter. God then remembered Rachel and she gave birth to a son.

Both Sara and Rachel had to wait many years till they were able to have children. They both suggested that their husbands take their maid servant as a wife so that they can have a child through them. After both maid servants had children, then Sara and Rachel were able to have children. It seems interesting that they had to allow another woman to marry their husbands in order for them to have children.

Rachel’s story seems more complex than Sara’s since it has the added on factor of a sister as a second wife to her husband and the jealousy involved there. It seems like there was a competition going on, about who can have the most children. Even though Rachel only had 2 children she was the wife with whom Jacob had originally wanted to marry. So it would seem as though she should have been the main wife to have more children, and to have children first. But yet she had to wait, and had to go through the suffering of seeing her sister have more children before her. Perhaps, it was a way of saving the best for last, and therefore she had children after. Or perhaps after seeing her sister have children it made her truly want the children more and she was better able to appreciate them.

By Sara’s story, the child of her maidservant plays an important role in the future of Jewish history. A whole nation comes out of Ishmael and they never get along with the Jews. Whereas, by Rachel, her maidservant’s children mostly get along with her children, they are considered brothers and are all Jewish. Although the brothers to get jealous of Rachel’s son, and sell Joseph to the Egyptians.

We see here that there can be two children born from the same father and yet turn out very different. It shows how important the teachings of the mother are, since the mother is the one to mold the child. Hagar ended up raising Ishmael and therefore he turned out different from Isaac.

In conclusion, Sara and Rachel’s story were very similar in that they were both barren woman that had to wait many years to have children. But the stories are yet different. Abraham had no children from any other wives while he was married to Sara. He married Sara’s maid servant with the thought that it Sara will be able to raise the child like her own. However, Jacob had been married to both Rachel and Leah at the same time. Leah had been able to have children, while Rachel could not. Rachel had given her maid servant to Jacob to be able to have a child just like Sara did. But then Leah also gave over her maid servant to Jacob to marry, and here it was to add on to the amount of children she already had.


Mikeinmidwood said...

You forgot about Rebeccah

The Babysitter said...

o, yea, I didn't mention Rivkah or Chana, because then it would just be too much. Plus I found similarities between Sara and Rachel that weren't between the other ones.

btw, I would never think of writing such a thing on my own. I never even though of comparing topics throughout the Torah. The idea is foreign to me, we always learned Posuk by Posuk.

The reason I wrote this all is because I had to write a paper on it for my Jewish class. So I figured since it's Jewish and I have to write it, might as well post it too and see if there are other opinions on it.

Leora said...

I find your comment even more interesting than your post. It's too bad that Jewish educators can't let students look at the big picture or at themes, and one is just learning posuk by posuk. As an adult, I get to learn the way I want, so themes are a nice approach. I like the comparison and contrast. Might be nice if you can find relate a current story of a woman with infertility whose story resonates with Sara's or Rachel's.

More posts like this one! Cheer, cheer.

The Babysitter said...

Leora: yea, it is quite interesting to look at it as themes, makes it easier to learn too.

perhaps that might be interesting to find a modern day story like that, but I can't think that such a thing would exist. I mean what wife would give away their husband to another woman to have a child with and then take the man back?

Thanx for the encouragement, I thought it might be boring, but if you like it then I can post future ones too!

Also, I had a hard time adjusting to looking at the Torah without automatically looking at Rashi. When I gave my first presentation on sefer Bereishis, I used Rashi to help summarize it, and my prof said she didn't want Rabbinical text and she said she understand that it would be hard for me considering the background I'm from and that I've been used to it all this time. So I told her I'll try next time to not use any outside sources, and I hope I succeeded this time!

Leora said...

Oh, I can understand that one would have a hard time studying Torah without Rashi. It's a natural for both my husband and myself.

Sometimes when you want to apply biblical stories to modern stories you have to stretch a bit. I would suggest looking at how Sara and Rachel must have felt, and those feelings could surely be applied to someone today. Maybe the "other woman" could be the husband's career? But this might not be applicable to your course. Not sure what your professor has in mind. For a blog post, anything goes. You set the limits.

The Babysitter said...

Leora: right, I just mentioned that as a side point.

and very good idea, that the husband's career could be "the other woman" and yea also the emotions involved could be applied to someone today. Perhaps I'll think about it, thanx for the idea!

Moshe said...

Regarding Yakov and Esav. What I heard is that a big problem was that they were both raised the same way. Yitzhak and Rivka tried to mold Esav into something he wasn't. Same can be said about kids going off the derech. Instead of raising them as individuals, the parents take the same approach to all of their kids and when it doesn't work, they just push harder.

The Babysitter said...

Moshe: true point, I have heard that too. Every child had to be taught his way that he can understand. Not every way of discipline can be applied to all children the same.

Rachel said...

"perhaps that might be interesting to find a modern day story like that, but I can't think that such a thing would exist. I mean what wife would give away their husband to another woman to have a child with and then take the man back?" ... It may not be common (or existant at all) in the Ashkenaz world, Babysitter, but it does exist (if at least among Sephardim/Mizrachim). I know of this precise story unraveling once more in the twentieth century. Two wives, one husband- the first was barren and thus sent her husband to remarry. The second wife was named Rachel... almost like the stories of Sarah Imeinu and Rachel Imeinu were combined. If only I could re-tell it at length, you'd see it's as touching as the story of Sarah and Rachel.

The Babysitter said...

Rachel: very interesting I didn't know that.
I can imagine it's a touching story. I would enjoy reading the story if you were able to type it up. It's a real eye opener to me. I'm sure it would be very emotional also.

Rachel said...

I was meaning to write about her in two weeks time anyway... so maybe I'll add that in. We'll see. :)

The Babysitter said...

Rachel: that works out good, it will give me time to catch up on your blog.

The Babysitter said...

I should have proofread this first, I can't believe I made so many mistakes.

I did get a check on this paper though!

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