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א"ר יצחק מפני מה היו אבותינו עקורים מפני שהקב"ה מתאוה לתפלתן של צדיקים

Says R' Yitzchak: Why were our forefathers sterile? Because HaShem desires the prayers of the righteous.

From Yevamos 64a

The picture this Gemara paints is a pretty bleak one. It almost sounds like HaShem has some insecurities and takes it out on the righteous. "I just love those tefillos. Hm, I'm not getting enough of them. Why don't I just slap these puny little humans around until they give me what I want?"

Obviously this cannot be the case. HaShem is not a cruel G-d, and He created this world only to bestow good on us. So what does this metaphor mean, that HaShem punishes the righteous so that they'll daven?

(This is not asking what it means that HaShem wants or needs our tefillos. I'm asking what it means that HaShem punishes so that they'll daven, which seems to be a cruel and unusual punishment for a crime left uncommitted.)

  • Maybe this is semantically splitting hairs, but usually I have heard this example depicted as "HaShem withholds" rather than "punishes". A similar approach was expressed by my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Shimon Green. Why did HaShem deliver the מן daily, instead of larger packages which would last longer (e.g. once a week)? Because he wanted to his children to go out every day to renew their connection with him. Like a daily "Shalom Aleichem". And obviously as you (and answer below) say, the daily effort is not for HaShem, it is for us. – Sam Goldberg Apr 24 '17 at 10:47
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The OP states: "...He created this world only to bestow good on us."

1) If G-d is infinite and

2) He can give infinitely

3) And He created the world in order to bestow good upon us...

Then G-d by definition would want to bestow all manner of good upon us. If He missed out on giving us a type of goodness, then G-d would be deficient. But G-d is not deficient, so He would by nature give us all types of good.

Free gifts are a type of goodness. People feel good when they receive a free gift.

Granting someone the ability to earn something is another type of goodness. People feel good when they earn something and receive it.

If the person were to only receive free gifts, then they would never exert effort to earn something. They would therefore lack a type of goodness.

So, G-d created them with a deficiency to begin with (sterile) not as a punishment (no wrong-doing), but as a challenge to be overcome through the effort called tefillah (prayer). If the person works hard through the experience called tefillah, they will merit children as a reward. These children are earned, and not simply a free gift. So now the person was bestowed with all manner of goodness.

Why were our forefathers sterile? Because Hashem desired that goodness should be bestowed upon them through their tefillos and not just through G-d's free gifts.

  • The concepts that you mentioned in the 2nd to last paragraph are the foundation of Birkat Borei Nefashot, BTW. We thank G-d for creating deficiencies In all living creatures! – DanF Apr 24 '17 at 15:54
  • @DanF I was thinking about that too ty for mentioning it. :) – David Kenner Apr 24 '17 at 16:58
  • Citing a source for your answer would improve its credibility. – msh210 Apr 24 '17 at 21:34
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This is not a punishment of any sort, but part of actual creation. Talmidey Baal Shem Tov explain it this way.

Clearly, Hashem knows everyone's needs, so the reason for tfilo is not to inform Hashem about them, but to create vessels to receive the shefa. Oysies (letters of speech) create keylim (vessels) that serve as recipients of Hashem's sustenance. I.e. you can view tfilo as part of the process of creation itself.

See: Imrey Pinchos Hasholeym, Shaar HaTfilo 1 (R' Pinchos miKoretz); Ben Poyras Yoysef, Parshas Noyach, d"h "Oyfn 2, al pi soyd" (R' Yakoyv Yoysef miPolnoe); Maggid Dvorov leYakoyv 269 (Mezheritcher Maggid R' Doyv Ber miMezhritch).

  • Very nice and quite unexpeted answer from chasidus. I wonder, though - a very basic question - surely H' does not need human-created vessels to impart His blessing. And I bristle at the idea that He is somehow "happier" or likelier to do so if we only get things all ready for Him. How does this work, then? (Does it have anything to do with the idea that H' "prefers" there be an explanation from derech hateva for good occurrences than to make outright nesim all the time? Odd, then, that private prayers would serve as an excuse from דרך הטבע.) Please, if you can, explain what I've + – SAH Aug 24 '18 at 4:43
  • missed about this very fundamental concept, keilim – SAH Aug 24 '18 at 4:43
  • Also don't see why this answer applies specifically to tzadikim, as the OP indicated he wanted. (That may be true of most answers here, though.) – SAH Aug 24 '18 at 4:46
  • This really applies to everyone, not just tzadikim, but tzadikim especially that's why it's stressed. The reason why such system is needed is same reason why Hashem created the world in the first place, and created people to begin with. Essentially, the answer is "eyn Melech beloy om" - there is no King without people. Another answer that's given in addition to the above is "bgin deishtemoydin ley" - so [they] would know Him. – shmerl Aug 26 '18 at 2:40
  • However you obviously can ask a next question, why so as well? To which there is no good answer, we only know it's because Hashem wanted it that way and "you can't reason about desire" :) – shmerl Aug 26 '18 at 2:40
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Along similar lines to the previous answers, my understanding of the medrash is that G-d did not create this world to exist as a self-contained one. Thus, while we see that indeed most creatures receive sustenance and offspring without engaging G-d through actual tefilla, this is not the ideal way of the world for which it was created. Rather this type of undeserved bestowal of good is part of the idea of "olam chessed yibaneh" - "world built with kindness" as a necessary prerequisite to achieve the actual purpose of creation, where man recognizes G-d and interacts directly with Him through the avoda and tefilla. If not for this ultimate din (give-and-take) level, nothing else would have been created. Thus, those who receive without any level of acknowledging G-d, are receiving in the same way animals receive their needs, in a role that is not the purpose of creation.

We find a similar idea in the contrast between the sustenance of Egypt, which receives its needs in a relatively predictable, closed system involving the Nile, and that of Israel, which is uniquely non-deterministic and unpredictable with regard to its weather patterns. As such, Israel is forced to acknowledge and engage G-d, thereby fulfilling theirs and the world's raison d'etre.

Another example is the way an infant's needs are provided for via unique and innate instincts and behaviors, such as sucking and nursing. As it develops and is able to fend for itself, these instincts and relationships are no longer the same source of nourishment.

  • beautiful answer as always. – SAH Aug 24 '18 at 4:37

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