By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Avraham avinu and Sarah imeinu were tumtumim. That is what Chazal tell us on today’s daf. And it doesn’t end there, all three generations of Avos and Imahos struggled with infertility issues. Avraham and Sarah were childless for all their years outside of Eretz Yisrael. Even once they entered Eretz Yisrael, their infertility continued to haunt them for another ten years, and even then it was only after another woman – who did not share their value system – entered into the picture, with all the far-reaching repercussions that would have on the future history of the Jewish People. Yitzchak and Rivkah had to endure twenty long years of childlessness before they finally got to cradle their own. Even then, it was no picture-perfect picnic having an Eisav around and all that entailed. Rachel imeinu as well grappled mightily with the hardship of being barren, while seeing all the other women in her life having children with no problem at all.
What is this all about? Why the all the pain and suffering? Chazal on today’s daf tell us succinctly, “For what reason were the Avos barren? Because Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu desires the teffilos of the tzadikim.”
This is a difficult statement to digest, at least at first. Sure, we have no problem understanding that it is ratzon Hashem for people to daven, but we have a hard time understanding how that can sufficiently justify subjecting such righteous people to such difficult hardships and pain.
But maybe the reason why this is such a difficult point for us to understand has a lot to do with how we relate to life in general.
Often, when we experience life’s inevitable “blips” – those monkey wrenches that somehow make their way into the cogs and gears of our otherwise well-oiled life – we get annoyed and upset. “Uch, why did this issue have to come along and ruin everything?! If only this would not have happened everything would have been great and I would be able to go about my life!”
And maybe that’s a mistake.
You see, we tend to view life as a well-oiled, smooth-functioning procession of one step to the next, one stage to the next, and one accomplishment to the next. But maybe we need to step out of the screen for a moment to consider whether that really is what life is about or how it’s meant to be. After all, how often does significant accomplishment occur in the absence of real struggle? Even more than that, what really is the definition of significant accomplishment? Is it the natural and almost automatic application of inborn talents that are just doing their thing?
Or is it perhaps something deeper?
Infertility is representative of more than just the inability to have children. The fact that Avraham and Sarah started off their lives as tumtumim means that the doors of opportunity were closed to them. At least that is how it appeared to be. Tosafos points out that even though by the time they were married they had certainly undergone the surgical procedure to expose their reproductive organs, the reality nevertheless was that their chances of ever having children were close to nil, if even that.
Imagine if Avraham and Sarah had simply resigned to their “fate”. They may have lived a very nice, even very righteous life together, but a Klal Yisrael would never have emanated from them. So, what did they do? Es ha’nefesh asher asu b’Charan. If they could not produce their own, biological progeny, they would do whatever was in their power to create a continuity to the legacy of Godliness and generate a populating of the world in the manner Hashem truly intended. They would go out and teach the world about Hashem. They would simply adopt the whole world. Av hamon goyim nesaticha. Hashem granted them the status they had so justly earned.
Beyond that, they recognized that everything is in Hashem’s hands. So they davened, they tried bringing Hagar into the picture. They did whatever they could possibly do to make the impossible happen. And in the end, when they had almost completely despaired of their deepest hope ever materializing, it did happen. The impossible occurred. Heinikah Banim Sarah.
But what brought this about? What incredible zechus “pushed” Hashem to make such a gigantic miracle? A miracle that carried within it the future of all of Klal Yisrael, the future of the realization of the whole purpose of creation.
It was that Avraham and Sarah, and all the Avos and Imahos after them, looked their seemingly insurmountable challenge straight in the eye and met it head on. You see, the Avos did not view their hardships as an annoying flaw on the beautiful, smooth horizon of life. On the contrary, they embraced those hardships as the challenges that comprise life itself.
True growth and achievement is borne of persevering through challenge. It is true, we don’t ask for hardships, and we do always hope that life will be forever blissful and smooth – al mei menuchos yenahaleini. At the same time, though, we cannot afford to forget the whole point for which we have been placed here to begin with. Adam l’amal yulad.
Hashem’s greatest desire, kavayachol, is to see us reach our greatest potential. And potential is actualized when we face our difficulties, hardships, and challenges head on and deal with them. It is through the stretching and growing that necessarily takes place when we persevere through our challenges that we truly achieve significant accomplishment.
Viewing the hardships and challenges we encounter throughout life as opportunities is not easy. Not easy at all. However, if we can pull it off, it makes dealing with those difficulties that much easier. And rewarding. For, sometimes, it is precisely the sense that all the doors are closed to us that is the biggest opening for us to achieve greatness.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. Driven by a passion to generate true kinyan Torah, both for himself and others, Rabbi Berman develops innovative tools to getting the most out of what we learn. In addition to having authored the warmly acclaimed Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim whose topics range from Halacha to Hashkafa, sends out daily emails of comprehensive chazara questions for the advanced Daf Yomi learner who really wants to retain his learning, and weekly emails of words of inspiration based on the Parsha.