SALT - Friday, 22 Av 5776 - August 26, 2016

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  • Rav David Silverberg

            In the beginning of Parashat Eikev, we read the blessings that Benei Yisrael are promised in reward for their observing God’s commands, including, “lo yiheyeh vekha akar va-akara” – that nobody will experience infertility (7:14).  The Gemara in Masekhet Bekhorot (44b) comments that this promise refers not only to literal infertility, but also to the “infertility” of our prayers: “she-lo tiheyeh tefilatekha akura.”  The simple meaning of the Gemara’s comment is that our prayers will achieve their desired outcome, and produce the result we wish, like parents who produce offspring. 

The Gemara then notes the next word in this verse – “u-vi’vhemtekha” (“and among your animals”), promising that our livestock will likewise be fruitful and reproduce.  To explain the relevance of this word to the promise of the success of our prayers, the Gemara comments that our prayers are answered when we conduct ourselves “like animals.”  Tosefot explain this as a reference to humility, to the sense that we are unworthy and undeserving of God’s special blessing and grace.  If we humbly see ourselves as “animals,” recognizing the insufficiency of our achievements in avodat Hashem, then we are promised that our prayers were not be “infertile.”

            Rav Moshe Yechiel Epstein (Eish Dat, p. 28) suggested a deeper reading of the Gemara’s remark.  Just as we are commanded to reproduce in the literal sense, by begetting offspring, we are likewise expected to “give birth” to ourselves in the form of constant growth.  Throughout our lives, we are to strive to produce ourselves anew, to transform ourselves into different and better people.  In this vein, Rav Epstein explains the phrase, “she-lo tiheyeh tefilatekha akura.”  The goal of prayer is not only to produce the desired result, to obtain that which we pray for, but also to elevate ourselves through communion and communication with God.  This transformative effect, the Gemara teaches us, can only occur if we “make ourselves like animals,” if we acknowledge the need for growth and improvement.  If we feel content with our current spiritual standing, and deny the need for change, then change will not likely occur.  We are therefore advised to be mindful of our flaws and shortcomings, to recognize that no matter how much we do and how much we have accomplished, we still far fall short of our potential, then our prayers and other religious endeavors will be “fertile” and “fruitful,” and achieve their ultimate goal of elevating us to higher levels and allowing us to constantly produce new selves, each and every day of our lives.