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B'resheet/Genesis 30:22 And G-d remembered Rachel; and G-d listened to her, and He opened her womb.
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Ya'akov's wife Leah - Rachel's older sister - has now given birth to six sons and a daughter. Rachel herself has been unable to have any children, except at the price of introducing her main Bilhah into the household as a rival-wife to bear two children for her by proxy. Finally, in this short verse, three consecutive verbs bring her years of barrenness to an end, leaving the readers in no doubt that G-d is responsible both for the withholding and granting of fertility for Ya'akov's beloved Rachel.Targum Onkelos is shocked by the human qualities and interactions in the text, so recasts every phrase to make it less anthropomorphic; Onkelos also changes , the name associated with G-d's attribute of judgement, to the Aramaic equivalent of the tetragrammaton, the name associated with G-d's attribute of mercy: "The remembrance of Rachel came before the L-rd; the L-rd accepted her prayer and gave her conception."
The first verb, - a Qal 3ms vav-conversive from the root , to remember, think of, be mindful of - prompts Nahum Sarna to comment that "in the Bible, 'remembering', particularly on the part of G-d, is not the retention or recollection of a mental image, but a focusing upon the object of memory that results in action." G-d decides to do something, to take action of Rachel's behalf. TheSforno suggests that G-d rewards Rachel because of "her efforts to conceive by bringing her handmaiden into the house as a rival-wife and the incident of the mandrakes." The Radak adds that "G-d saw her humiliation at having no children." After the second verb, - a Qal 3ms vav-conversive from the root , to hear or listen - the Sforno explains that G-d listened "to her prayers, after she had made both efforts", perhaps thinking of the Midrash where "Rabbi Judan said in Rabbi Aibu's name: Through many prayers was Rachel remembered. First, for her own sake, as it says, 'And G-d remembered () Rachel'. ' Rachel', implies for the sake of her sister1. 'And G-d listened to her' - for Ya'akov's sake; 'And opened her womb' - for the sake of the matriarchs" (B'resheet Rabbah 73:3). The third verb, - a Qal 3ms vav-conversive from the root , to open, cleave, loosen or untie - tells what actually happened: Rachel was enabled to bear children. Plaut comments that "not potions but divine help ended her barrenness."
In its translation of this text, Targum Neophyti reports a legend claiming that G-d has four keys, which He keeps from the hands of angels - i.e. that He only allows Himself to use. "These are the keys (meaning, control) of rain, provision of food, resurrection and barrenness" (Drazin and Wagner). The Midrash also quotes this with the last phrase of the text: "Rabbi Menahema said in Rabbi Bibi's name: Three keys are in the hands of the Holy One, blessed be He: the keys of burial [i.e. resurrection], rain, and the womb. The key of burial: 'Behold, I will open your graves' (Ezekiel 37:12); the key of rain: The Lord will open unto you His good treasure the heaven, to give the rain (D'varim 28:12); the key of the womb: 'And He opened her womb'. Some add, the key of sustenance too, because it says, 'You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing' (Psalm 145:16, ESV)" (B'resheet Rabbah 73:4).
Our text and the legend both seem certain that Rachel's ability to bear children to Ya'akov was suspended or withheld for a season by G-d. This phenomenon appears again in the Scriptures: the birth narratives of Samuel and John the Immerser. In both cases, the life of the barren wife parallels to some degree that of Rachel; Hannah is taunted by her fertile rival-wife Penina over her inability to conceive - "Her rival taunted her and made her feel bad, because ADONAI had kept her from having children" (1 Samuel 1:6, CJB) - while Elizabeth says, "ADONAI has done this for me; He has shown me favour at this time, so as to remove my public disgrace" (Luke 1:25, CJB). G-d's control in another area is described by Yeshua: "As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Yeshua answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him'" (John 9:1-3, ESV).
What is going on in these situations? It appears as though G-d is simply using people for the sake of His own ego, inflicting years of anguish, disgrace or humiliation on them, so that He may take the credit for fixing a situation that He Himself set up that way. The texts even give or support that idea. Can this really be the whole picture, or is it possible that we are viewing these events through a limited perspective? G-d Himself says that "For My plans are not your plans, nor are My ways your ways - declares the L-RD. But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high above your ways and My plans above your plans" (Isaiah 55:8-9, JPS). We cannot (currently) see things from G-d's perspective; we cannot appreciate all the interactions, conversations and 'coincidences' that are related to and spin out of individual situations. He is the only one who has that viewpoint right now. So whatever may appear to be the situation, whether in the stories related in the Bible or in the things that happen in people's lives today, we always need to ask two things: what is G-d's greater plan or objective in this particular situation or for these specific people; what is the constant over-arching purpose of G-d for all people and His creation.
We know that G-d is growing and developing each of us, that we may be conformed to the image of Yeshua. We need to remember the whole of this text: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:28-29, ESV), not just the first phrase. We are being conformed, shaped, matured, so that we resemble Yeshua; not in physical appearance, but spiritually, in our characters and souls. In order to do this, Father G-d needs to help us release negative attitudes, bad habits, earthy behaviour. He does this by means of discipline - "G-d is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?" (Hebrews 12:7, ESV) - kneeding and teasing away at the knots in our characters and blemishes in our lives caused by sin and the fallen world in which we live, until all the fibres are straight and clean, ready for spinning into a strong, clear thread. Is this always comfortable, painless and instant? No, but "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which G-d has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12, ESV). We do not know the particular endpoint or the individual destination, "as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what G-d has prepared for those who love Him'" (1 Corinthians 2:9, ESV). But we do know the overall game plan: that we should all hear Yeshua saying, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34, ESV).
Although after times of trial and suffering, Rachel did conceive and give birth to Yosef, who was to be Ya'akov's favourite son and the person G-d used to preserve the seeds of the Jewish people from famine by preparing a place of refuge in Egypt. Hannah did conceive and give birth to the prophet Samuel, who was to judge Israel for many years, the person G-d used to anoint David to be king over Israel. Elizabeth did conceive and give birth to John the Immerser, who proclaimed the coming of Messiah Yeshua and was able to point out "the Lamb of G-d who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, ESV). Even the man who had been born blind received sight, so that he could see and follow Yeshua, and whom G-d used to bring testimony before the Jewish leaders: "Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from G-d, he could do nothing" (John 9:32-33, ESV). Our lives too are to be a testimony to the work and love of G-d. Do we struggle against what sometimes seems like gross unfairness, dashed hopes and wasted years? Absolutely, but our witness will emerge as partakers in the victory of G-d, quiet and confidently knowing and trusting our G-d to the very end - and beyond!
1. - is the direct object indicator, but can be used as an extending particle, to include other instances, cases or people.
Further Study: Isaiah 64:1-8; Romans 9:20; 1 John 5:13
Application: Do you have an un-met aspiration, a dream that has never been realised, and carry a grudge against G-d? Now is the time to release that into G-d's hands and let Him turn your ashes into a garland and mourning into gladness (Isaiah 61:3).
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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