Fertility of Mankind and Fruitfulness of Soil
Rabbanit Amira Raanan teaches Halakha and Responsa Literature at the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva
The portion of Ekev begins: “And it shall come to pass, because you harken to these laws, and keep, and do them, that the Lord your God shall keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore unto your fathers. And He will love you, and bless you, and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your body and the fruit of your land, your corn and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore unto your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle.” (Devarim 7: 12-14)
The Parsha highlights the blessings that will come to those who worship God and observe His mitzvot. A great many of these blessings relate to fertility and fruitfulness: “Reish Lakish in the name of Bar Kapparah said: ‘… the word “stop” [atzira] is used both in reference to a woman’s womb, as is written – “God stopped every womb…”, as well as in reference to rains, as is written – “…and He shall stop the heavens”. The word “birth” is also used in reference to both women and rains. As is written of childbearing – “And she conceived and gave birth to a son” (Bereshit 30:23); and as is written of rain – “For as the rains come down… and the earth shall be watered, and it shall birth and blossom” (Yeshayahu 55:10). The concept of “remembrance” [pekida] – is used in reference to women and to rains. Of a woman it is written – “And God remembered Sarah” (Bereshit 21:1); of rains it is written – “You remembered the earth, and watered her, greatly enriching her, with the river of God that is full of water” (Tehillim 65:1).
These examples illustrate how Reish Lakish applies the human concepts of “remembrance” and “birth” – which relate to human fertility and productiveness – to the soil and its fruitfulness. Much like a woman, who has intercourse with her husband and then conceives and bears a child, so too the soil is penetrated by the rains, and is then remembered and bears the fruit of the earth.
Another example of this can be found in the words of Rabi Abahu and Rabi Yehuda (Ta’anit 6): Rabi Abahu said – What does the term revi’ah [“impregnation”] mean? It refers to something that penetrates the soil and impregnates it, as is the opinion of Rav Yehuda: The rains are like the spouse of the soil, as is written – “For as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither, except it water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, and give seed to the one who sows and bread to the eater” (Yeshayahu 55:10).
It follows then that it is the rain that fertilizes the soil, penetrating it like a husband would his wife. As to fertility, both that of the soil as well as that of mankind – this is induced by the forces of Nature. In Nature, both the woman and the soil are impregnated, resulting in the bearing of fruit. However, there is yet another sphere of fruitfulness – one which transcends Nature and is contingent upon living a Torah life and observing the mitzvot.
On this super-natural level, the fruitfulness of soil and man relies upon the blessing of God rather than the laws of Nature: If you shall observe My statutes, you will be blessed with the fruits of the soil and the fruits of the womb.
The Talmud Yerushalmi mentions a wonderful midrash in the tractate of Ta’anit (Chapter 1, Halacha 4) that connects rains and the interpersonal relations between husband and wife: Rabi Abahu saw in his dream that in times of drought one has to ask a person by the name of Pantekaka to pray and then the rains will come. Rabi Abahu sent for Pantekaka [to find out who he is] and had him brought to him. He [Rabi Abahu] asked him: What is your trade? He answered – I commit five transgressions each day: I am responsible for decorating the house of prostitution and hiring the singers and the dancers; I bring their garments to the bath house; clap my hands and dance for them; and chime the bells before them. He [Rabi Abahu] answered him: And what good did you do [to grant you worthy of praying on behalf of the public]? He answered: Once a man [namely, I] decorated the house of prostitution. And a woman came and stood crying behind the pillar. I then said to her: What troubles you? She answered: The husband of this woman [namely, my husband] has been locked away [in the prison house], and she [namely, I] wishes to see what can be done to set him free [from the prison house, hinting to him that she wished to sell her body to the house of prostitution in order to earn enough money to set him free.] [Now Pantekaka tells Rabi Abahu as follows:] I sold my bed and my canopy and I gave her the money I got for these, and I said to her: Take this and go free your husband so that you sin not. I said to him [Rabi Abahu said to Pantekaka]: Indeed, worthy are you of offering prayer and being answered!
Why was the prayer of that brothel-keeper greater than the prayer of our Sages? What lay hidden in his deed that made him more worthy than the greatest scholars of Israel? The midrash describes a situation in which a woman is compelled to sell herself to prostitution. In fact, the woman intended to use her “vessel of productivity” – her body – in a manner which is adulterated, by choosing to deviate from the natural course of reproduction. However, the brothel-keeper chooses to save her from this sin and gives her the money to set her husband free from captivity. The money he gives her is not from the earnings of the house of prostitution; rather, it is money that is clean and void of sin – the proceeds of the sale of his personal property: his bed and linen. The minute the woman can redeem her husband in a manner that is unadulterated, she is also able to realize Nature’s course of fruitfulness, one that is also in keeping with Torah Law. When the woman returns to her husband, the rains can come down as well.
Engaging in pristine procreation leads to fruitfulness of soil. As is written: “And it shall come to pass, because you harken to these laws…He will also bless the fruit of your body and the fruit of your land…there shall not be male or female barren among you…”