Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
A Painful Question
I received many responses, some very painful, following the previous columns. I cannot relate to all of them, but I will address the question of one mother:
“Shalom, Rabbi Melamed. I am a regular reader of your column in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper. The column is interesting and thought-provoking, offering a unique and Torah-based approach. Thank you!
Rabbi, I wanted to consult you about my daughter, who is approaching the age of forty. She has yet to get married. My other children, thank God, are happily married. The problem is that she is not willing to accept offers for dates. She rejects everyone who wants to set her up. I think it stems from the despair and frustration of the numerous offers she received which were badly chosen, to say the least. I am unable to talk to her.
When I tried recently, she was so insulted, she almost severed our relationship, and of course, that is not what I want. Above and beyond this, she is a wonderful girl, really great. I would really love to hear advice from you, Rabbi, or your wife, to help me help her. I can occasionally assist other people, but I am unable to help my own daughter. Rabbi, what do you suggest I do?
I do not know how I can help. You surely know better than I, seeing as she is your daughter. Nevertheless, there is one essential piece of advice I can give you: Despite the tremendous importance of creating a family, you should realize that your daughter, herself, possess tremendous, infinite value – as a person and as a daughter of Israel – and you should love her unconditionally. In addition, you should appreciate her immeasurably for each of her virtues and every good deed she does. And God-willing, you will enjoy endlessnachas from her, and she too will receive pleasure and strength from your love.
I hope you find some benefit in my short answer.
The Value of Prayer
Question: Rabbi, if a person’s destiny is the determining factor, as you wrote last week, that having children depends on mazal, then what is the point of prayer? After all, if according to mazal a couple should have children – they will, and if not – all the prayers won’t help?
First, as I mentioned in my previous column, many times mazal is not sealed, and consequently, a person’s free will, actions and prayer have great influence. Second, even if a person, according to his mazal, is meant to have children or wealth, if he does not make an effort he will not obtain them. And often, if one does not pray, he will not receive the blessing reserved for him. This is analogous to someone who was sent a gift in the mail. If he does not come to the post office to pick it up – he won’t receive the gift.
Questions from Infertile People
Q: A number of people, who, in the wake of various illnesses became infertile, asked with great sorrow: What is our life worth?
A: Indeed, a person who was not privileged to have children can sink into sorrow and despair over not leaving someone behind to continue their memory in the world. But if one succeeds in connecting his life to eternal holiness, he thereby merits an eternal name, which is better than sons and daughters. Or as the Prophet Isaiah said: “And don’t let the eunuch say, “I’m just a dry tree.” The Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, choose what I desire, and remain loyal to my covenant. In my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won’t be removed” (Isaiah 56:3-5).
As long as there are sins in the world, there will also be death and various illnesses; but when the world is remedied from all its sins, all ailments will also be healed.
Insulting the Honor of Israel
Certain sins in particular cause sterility, and one of them is insulting Israel and the Temple. As we have learned, following the great miracle that happened to King Hezekiah, messengers of the king of Babylon came to him and instead of bringing them closer to devoutness, he transgressed in the sins of pride and flattery, showing them all his treasures, and the treasures of the Temple. The Prophet said to him: “They will take away your sons who will issue from you, whom you shall father, and they will be eunuchs in the king of Babylon’s palace” (Isaiah 39:7).
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were Infertile
Our Sages said that this harsh prophecy came to pass in Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were the descendants of King Hezekiah. As young children, they were separated from their families and people, and taken to the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar to be his servants and consultants, and thus, also underwent castration, although in the Talmud (Sanhedrin93b), there is a dispute between the Amoraim whether they were actually eunuchs or not. In any event, the Talmud later explains that even according to the opinion that they weren’t eunuchs, nevertheless, the children born to them died in their lifetime, and therefore, their consolation was they would have an enduring name, better than sons and daughters.
In Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (chap.51), it is explained that in truth, they were eunuchs, which in simple terms means that the king ordered them castrated so they would be loyal to him. In the book Otzar HaMidrashim it is told: “And Esther called to Hatach (in Hebrew, to cut off). Hatach is Daniel, and why is he called Hatach? Because he cut off his male organ during the times of the evil Nebuchadnezzar – he, and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
When the haters of Israel informed on them, saying to Nebuchadnezzar, these Jews that you brought are sleeping with the king’s maidservants and wives of the ministers. Immediately, Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah heard the libel, and cut off their male organs, as it is written, “The Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths”, etc.
Immediately (after hearing the libel) Nebuchadnezzar was filled with anger with them, and sent for them to be killed. They said to him: Our noble king, God forbid we should have done something like that, for adultery and prostitution is forbidden by law in Israel, as it is written, ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’, and they showed him they were castrated. Immediately, Nebuchadnezzar was filled with great happiness and joy …” (Eisenstein, Esther, pg. 60).
At the end of his life Daniel, or Hatach, helped Esther and Mordechai in the days of Ahasuerus to save Israel. And like Daniel, Esther was also not privileged to establish a family in Israel; rather, she gave her life to save the Jewish nation.
Their Life Stories
By observing their personalities and actions, one can learn about the mission of those fated to be sterile.
After King Nebuchadnezzar brought the four children to his city, he ordered they be fed meat from his table, and taught the Chaldean language and culture in order for them to assimilate. But with self-sacrifice, they struggled to keep their faith, and seeing as the meat was not kosher, they avoided eating it for years, and instead, lived on beans. Had the king learned that they violated his order, he would have commanded to have them killed, but Daniel and his friends agreed to sacrifice their lives for it.
During their years of exile in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar, his soldiers destroyed the Temple, and exiled Israel to Babylon. But Daniel and his friends, who in the meantime were appointed senior ministers, did not lose their faith. After the kingdom of Babylon fell, and Darius, king of Media, decreed they were only allowed to pray to him, Daniel continued to pray to God three times a day, in the direction of Jerusalem. When he was caught, he was thrown into the lion’s den, and God miraculously saved him (Daniel 6).
And although Daniel was made into a eunuch, he did not seclude himself in sadness, rather, our Sages said: “We find that Daniel, a greatly beloved man, would engage in acts of kindness… and would prepare and gladden brides, accompany the dead, give charity to the poor, and pray three times a day, and his prayers were graciously accepted” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 4).
Let’s go back to the rule of Babylon. At the time, the Jewish nation experienced a severe crisis. A kingdom of evil ruled the world, the Temple was destroyed, the people were exiled from their land, and it seemed there was no longer hope for the faith of Israel. As a result, many of the exiles left the path of Torah and mitzvoth, thinking that in any case, within one or two generations, they would assimilate among the nations.
And then, Nebuchadnezzar decided to build a gigantic golden idol, expressing the authority of his supremacy and rule, and set a date for the preparation of an impressive ceremony, where everyone would worship his idol. Apparently, among those bowing down to the idol were numerous Jews. Even Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were officials in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, could have found an excuse to bow down, arguing that that it wasn’t total avodah zara(according to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.) But since the idol looked like avodah zara, all three agreed to fall into the fiery furnace, rather than bowing down to it and profaning God’s name in public. A great miracle was performed for them and they were not burned, and God’s name was sanctified in eyes of all of Israel and the Gentiles.
Our Sages said that Daniel was not there at the time (Sanhedrin 93a), but he also sacrificed his life by praying towards Jerusalem.
In Their Devotion They Saved All of Israel
Concerning those dark times when Israel forgot their faith and homeland, and bowed down to the idol, our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to turn the whole world into night…into blood…but as soon as he looked upon Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah his anger was appeased”
(Sanhedrin 93a). Thanks to them, the Jewish people remembered their covenant with the Lord their God, returned to their land, and built the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem.
Rather than giving up on life, these great men of Israel chose to identify with the will of God and his decrees, and thus, were able to perform great acts in the world. Similar to our Sages statement: “Do the will of God as if were your own will, so that He will do your will as if it were His will. Nullify your will for the sake of His will, so that He will nullify the will of others for your sake” (Avot, 2:4). Instead the brit milah (the covenant of circumcision), which is fulfilled with the organ taken from them, they ascended to the Heavenly covenant with all of Israel, in Torah and in the Land, and thus revealed the value of life itself, linked to its divine origin, to the point where it is said of them: “They remain loyal to My covenant” – because, thanks to them, the covenant ensued.
Connection to Life Itself
From the lives and actions of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah we can learn that sometimes it is precisely infertile people who can connect with their faith to the very life essence of life – beyond momentary life that is inherently bound-up in concern for family and children – to pure faith that is not dependent on any specific factor.
And thus, they are able to sacrifice their lives in revealing the covenant between God and Israel, and in consequence, the entire world exists, and Israel returns to their Land and builds Jerusalem and the Temple. “In my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won’t be removed”.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.