Parshat Toldot: Genesis 25:19-28:9; Malachi 1:1-2:7.
By Rabbi Megan Brudney
It is so exciting to finally arrive at the beginning of a new year. Everything seems so fresh and full of promise, like we have a new shot to approach life just right and make it whatever we want this time around.
As we begin the Torah anew, the vivid stories of Genesis (so relatable, so poignant) throw us valuable lessons about how to act, how to treat other people and, of course, how to avoid common relationship pitfalls. The timing is perfect.
This week, as we read Toldot, the portion opens with Isaac and Rebecca unsuccessfully attempting to conceive. We read that “Isaac pleaded to Adonai on behalf of his wife because she was barren; and Adonai responded to his plea, and his wife Rebecca conceived” (Genesis 25:21).
Although the Torah text singles out Isaac’s prayer, Rashi imagines both in one room, across from each other. It’s a lovely vignette, individual and yet shared hopes prayed mightily, simultaneously.
Several commentators further remark on the depth and sincerity of Isaac’s prayer, leaving an impression of a couple truly united in their desire for a child.
As the Torah tells it, that is enough to make their wish come true. It’s tidy, simple and, in this telling, even seems easy. In this lone verse we learn of the problem, the solution and the happy result. It’s a brisk, linear progression that ultimately serves as the setup to a larger story.
Unfortunately, this pat portrayal of the challenge of infertility does not reflect the reality lived by most people experiencing it. Rather, it is a sensitive, painful journey that quickly becomes all-consuming — and, moreover, is typically suffered in silence. (Particularly if the person already has one or more children.) Well-meaning but thoughtless comments (“We’re all waiting for big news!” “Isn’t it time you had another?”) become stinging barbs, forcing someone to conceal or confront their own struggle while in their office at work, in line at Target or at a party.
Please, if these are comments you have found yourself making, consider the feelings they might evoke in the listener. Consider finding other topics to discuss that are less likely to ignite the sense of powerlessness and shame to which infertility often leads. Your choice of conversation starters can make a big difference to someone walking a difficult path.
Most of all, if you yourself are contending with infertility, please know that there is support in the Jewish community. If you have a rabbi you trust, reach out and let her be there for you.
Hebrew Free Loan offers financial support for fertility treatments as well as for adoption. Hasidah, a national organization, offers financial support, too, as well as a wide variety of resources.
Isaac did the right thing by standing with Rebecca and lifting his voice in prayer. Let’s emulate him in 5780 by growing in our own sensitivity and support for those struggling with infertility today.
Rabbi Megan Brudney is a rabbi at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township.