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Sarai said to Avram “See now, Hashem has restrained me from bearing come now to my maidservant, perhaps I will be built up through her” (Bereishis 16:2).
The Torah tells us that after ten years of living in the land of Canaan, Sarai gave Hagar her maidservant to Avram as a wife. Sarai explained her actions by saying “perhaps I will be built up through her.” Rashi explains that Sarai felt that allowing her rival to attain the status of a wife so that her husband may have children would serve a merit for her so that she too would bear a child. The commentators explain that this statement may also be interpreted homiletically to mean that Sarai planned to raise and guide the child of Hagar and become its spiritual mother. This would give Sarai a place as the Matriarch of the Jewish people in a spiritual sense.
It is noteworthy that Rachel after years of childlessness followed in the ways of Sarai. The posuk says “She said [to Yaakov] here is my maid Bilhah, come to her that she may bear upon my knees and I too will be built up through her” (Bereishis 30:3). Rashi notes that the words “I too” are a reference to Sarai. Rachel said that she too will follow in the ways of Sarai and offer her maidservant to her husband Yaakov so that he may have more children. This would then serve as a merit for her so that she would also have her own children. Alternatively she would raise these children and serve as their spiritual mother.
We may ask why did Rachel follow in the ways of Sarah. It is true that Sarai was successful in bearing her own child in merit of her actions but there was also an element of risk, the birth of Yishmael. The Torah describes Yishmael as a “wild man.” Throughout history the descendents of Yishmael have brought great harm to the Jewish people. Perhaps Rachel should have sought a different merit.
It is noteworthy that we find a subtle difference between the words of Sarai and the words of Rachel. Sarai began her argument with the word “perhaps.” The word “perhaps” connotes hope but not conviction. By using this word Sarai sent a signal to Hagar the she was not completely prepared to raise her child. This gave Hagar the idea that she would replace Sarai as Matriarch of the Jewish People. On the other hand Rachel said “I will” be built up through her. Rachel was determined to succeed. She signaled that she would be in control.
Sarai who performed this great kindness to her husband lacked full conviction that her plan would work. Rachel built upon the kindness of Sarai by additionally setting out with conviction and determination that she would succeed. Sarai who was hesitant only achieved part of her plan. She merited to have her own child but her plan to allow her husband to have another child that would be part of the Jewish people or serve as Yishmael’s spiritual mother did not work. On the other hand Rachel who did set out with conviction, succeeded with both parts of her plan. She merited to have her own children gave Yaakov more children and served as the spiritual mother of Bilhah’s children.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5762/2002