Avichai Cohen
Memphis 2009

About three years ago I was in the middle of my training period in the army. The training period is divided into two parts: the first months are called “Tironut” in which you learn how the army works and acquire basic soldier’s skills. In the second period which is called “Imun Mitkadem” (advanced training) we were trained to fight in the battlefield dealing with different kinds of combat. During this period we were dwelling most of the time outside in the fields.

Since I was called to the army in August, my “Imun Mitkadem” took place between December and February which is not the best camping season.

The Gemara in Yoma (53b) tells us about a prayer of the Cohen Gadol in Yom Kippur that says: “…and may the prayer of wayfarers not enter before you”. This is said in the context of prayer for rain – the Cohen Gadol requests G-d not to listen to the wayfarers who want the rain to stop when the world needs it.

When I was in the field, freezing and wet, I was definitely in the status of wayfarer but yet I had to recite three times a day the prayer for the rain. Even though it was not easy I think that the prayer itself was worth a lot.

Our Parsha begins with the story about the barrenness of Rivka. Why does G-d cause our Matriarchs to be barren? After all, they were righteous people and it seems that they did not deserve the grief of being barren. The Gemara in Yevamot (64a) has asked this question and gives the following answer: “Because the Holy One, Blessed is He, craves the prayer of the righteous”. But this answer seems puzzling. Is it ok to let them suffer just in order to get the prayer?

In order to explain this we will have to reflect on one of the most famous stories in the whole Bible: Adam & Eve’s sin. The serpent enticed Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad; she ate and gave Adam to eat too. At the end of the story, G-d punishes the serpent. The serpent’s punishment was: “upon your belly shall you go and dust shall you eat all the days of your life” (Bereshit, 3:14). The commentators on the spot remark that from a certain point of view it is not such a severe punishment; on the bottom line, the serpent perhaps does not have a varied menu but he doesn’t have to go to Kroger anymore!! There is dust everywhere; he will not have to worry about food anymore! The commentators explain that the essence of the serpent’s punishment is not his poor menu but rather the lack of any relationship with G-d. Since the ser-pent will never lack food, he will never have to pray to G-d and thus loose a potent channel of communication with G-d.

The absolute contrast to that is the reason that the Gemara gave to the barrenness of the Matriarchs. The Gemara’s answer did not really explain the barrenness of Rebbeca, Sarah and Rachel which is only up to G-d but gave us a concept. Our daily contact with G-d happens when we are praying. The concept that the Gemara’s answer is teaching us is to use our problems and lacks in life as a means to strengthen our connection with G-d. It doesn’t matter whether we are spending all day working, being trained in the army, learning for tests etc., we have three times everyday in which we can take a break from our flow of life and work on our relationship with G-d. Let’s not miss these opportunities!!