“This sounds like a liberal commentary coming from our generation, but it was actually written 600 years ago,” Rav Mark Wildes said this week at the Manhattan Jewish Experience center.
“In this week’s parshah, Rachel says to Yaakov during her difficult years of infertility: ‘Give me children, and if not, I am dead.’ What a terribly sad verse.
Rav Yitzchak Arama, who lived in medieval Spain, writes that this sentence is not accurate since a woman has ‘two major purposes.’ In his words, one of these is ‘to give birth and to raise children’ and the second is ‘to advance oneself in the intellectual and moral fields.’
Rachel only related to one purpose, that of giving birth, and ignored the second purpose – to learn, to become worldly wise and pious and, in the process, to bring more goodness into the world. There is a purpose to Rachel’s deeds during her difficult years of infertility. In the end, she merits to give birth to Yosef and Binyamin. … Our parshah reminds us anew, each year, of the complex and holy purpose of women in our world.”