Where Did I Hear That?

“When we were young, we were taught again and again that we shouldn’t get pregnant. Now we can’t!”

That plaintive wail from a childless 43 year-old woman caught my attention. Holly Finn describes the mortification and expense of countless in-vitro-fertilization procedures she endured. A little cashmere baby sweater goes everywhere with her; she bought it years earlier for the baby she hoped she’d one day have. Now Holly weeps about having the sweater but not the child. Her most excruciating experiences are being in the company of other women chattering happily about their children, or with men, most of whom simply don’t get how she feels.

Holly’s sad situation echoes the Biblical account of Rachel. When Leah repeatedly gives birth, the childless Rachel cries out in agony to her husband:

…give me children otherwise I’m as good as dead.
(Genesis 30:1)

Jacob responds truthfully, but with little emotional sensitivity:

…am I in place of God…
(Genesis 30:2)

From this and other Biblical examples we learn that men find it almost impossible to relate to the pain of childless women.

Interestingly, the phrase, “Am I in place of God?” only appears on two occasions in all Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures). The first appears above when Jacob seems to shrug off responsibility for his wife, Rachel’s, grief.

The second instance comes after Jacob dies in Egypt. Ten of his sons fear retribution from their brother Joseph for having cruelly sold him into slavery so many years earlier. They concoct a story of their late father begging Joseph to forgive them. In response, Joseph explains that though they meant to harm him, God planned it to work out for the best. His opening words are:

…don’t be frightened, am I in place of God?
(Genesis 50:19)

A permanent principle of ancient Jewish wisdom is that we must scrutinize all occurrences of rare Biblical phrases to discover hidden message that link the separate instances.

Clearly Jacob’s hurtful response to Rachel when he basically said, “What do you want me to do about it, I’m not God,” must be linked to Joseph. The son of that very Rachel uses that very phrase, “I’m not God,” to the other sons of that very Jacob.

What is the link?

Nothing we ever do or even say vanishes. Its impact endures forever in one form or another. When you light a candle and let it burn down, you might think you’ve made the candle vanish. In reality you converted it into light, heat, and various gases released into the atmosphere. Joseph was attempting to reassure his brothers, yet his words must have reminded them that while he might forgive them, they still need to answer to God for their actions. Jacob’s lack of sensitivity impacted the world in a way that endured, resurfacing and causing pain in the next generation.

I once witnessed high spirited bantering about corporate downsizing at a business lunch; only I knew that one of us at the table had received his pink slip that morning. Did his heart break?

How often have I been insensitive to the inner pain of others? The Biblical repetition of words reminds us that as we work on improving our tennis game or losing another three pounds, we should also embrace the exciting challenge of increasing our sensitivity to the hidden pain felt by others.

                                                                                                 Reprinted from July 26, 2011 





12 thoughts on “Where Did I Hear That?”

  1. Dear madamme Lapin,

    I really appreciate this post, your work has already helped me be more kind to others and think more like a loving carer instead of a scorned taker. I ate matzot all week and I had my chametz now, it made me feel sick. It is so strange that my appetite decreased and my thinking was alot more clear during the no chametz week. I have decided to keep the chametz out mostly. God is good. Do you experience this as well, like a spiritual strengthening during the week of Pesach?
    Thank you so much in advance for your reply,
    kind regards,

    1. Thanks for letting me point out that this Thought Tool was written by my husband. My name was on it accidentally. Pesach is meant to be a week of spiritual rejuvenation and strengthening and I’m delighted you felt it. However, this is spiritual rather than caused by the food choices – if God had told us to eat carrots all week or not to have dairy, the spiritual results wouldn’t be different. It isn’t a physical diet but a spiritual one.

      1. Dear Madamme Lapin,

        Thank you for your reply, now I understand. Too bad glutenfree and yeastfree living won’t help. But God will give me clarity if I ask. I wish you and your family hapy Omer counting and a Shabbat in advance
        Kind regards,

  2. So good! Thanks for the reminder, may God continue to show me ways to be sensitive to others hearts as He is so sensitive to mine!

  3. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. I am not childless, but know of a young woman who is and it is heartbreaking for her to endure because her twin sister keeps having children and she cannot. This is a tough one. I have not seen her in years, but get holiday update letters from her mother and know she has not had a child or it would be mentioned in the letter.

  4. Good Day Rabbi, My name is Hank Pretorius was born a Christian and The Hebrews are my center of my thoughts.It is my dream to work in Israel(security sector).Since i am from South Africa(Oudtshoorn-WC) will i be well received.Thanks.

  5. We appreciate your website! Thank you for being a wonderful blessing in our lives.

    From some of your Catholic friends in San Diego.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Martha,
      We love San Diego even more now knowing we have Catholic friends in that fair city.
      My warmest wishes to them all.

  6. My first thought is, how does God view “making merchandise of the very thing that God freely gave to each of us”? I am thankful that Paul the Apostle didn’t find it necessary to publish his writings and put them on sale at the local bookstore. He freely sent them to those he knew would cherish them and left them free of copyright knowing that they would be copied and shared amongst the faithful. What has changed in our day and generation.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Andy–
      Happily, the Bible is freely available. Just check the nightstand in almost any hotel room. (Thank you Gideons! I appreciate your holy work!)
      There is also ample free teaching right here on this website and many others. None of this precludes teachers investing skill, time and energy is creating additional learning resources which they make available at a price to those interested in acquring them.
      It is grievously mistaken and entirely anti-Biblical to think that money is evil, profit is plunder, and a price on a commodity disqualifies it. And I have an important and persuasive book called Business Secrets From The Bible which is for sale and which explains this clearly and compellingly.
      Thanks for reading Thought Tools and for writing.

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