Parashas Vayeira

This week’s parashah records the birth of our forefather Yitzchak. Avraham and Sarah were old when Yitzchak was born, and both were previously barren, so the birth was a great miracle. Accordingly, Sarah exclaimed (Bereishis 19:7): “Who proclaimed the word to Avraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne a son in his old age!” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 53:5):
It is written (Tehillim 113:9): “He causes the mistress of the house (עקרת הבית) to settle as the joyous mother of children.” He causes the mistress of the house to settle – Sarah, of whom it is written, “Sarai was barren (עקרה).” The joyous mother of children – as it is written, “Sarah would nurse children.” [The Hebrew phrase עקרת הבית in this verse is typically rendered as “barren wife,” but, in line with Maggid’s commentary, I have rendered it “mistress of the house”– cf. Bamidbar Rabbah 14:8 and 14:11.]
The Midrash goes on to relate that Sarah produced so much milk that she was able to nurse other women’s babies as well as her own (Bereishis Rabbah 53:9), as hinted at by the phrase “nurse children” (rather than “nurse a child”) in Sarah’s exclamation. The Maggid sets out to analyze these two Midrashim.
First, the Maggid asks: Why did Hashem cause Sarah to produce so much milk? Seemingly, there was no need for this great miracle. It would have been wondrous enough for Sarah to be able to nurse her son Yitzchak alone. The Maggid explains the purpose of this extravagant miracle by noting the teaching in Bereishis Rabbah 53:8 that at the time Sarah gave birth, many other formerly barren women gave birth along with her. This occurrence could have prompted the people of the time to ask: For whose sake did these miraculous births come about – was it for the sake of Sarah, with the other women benefitting incidentally, or was it for sake of some other woman, with Sarah benefitting incidentally? Hence, in order to show clearly that the miracle was for Sarah’s sake, Hashem caused Sarah to produce so much milk that she could nurse the children of all the women.
The Maggid brings out the point further with an analogy. A stranger visits a certain house, and he sees a group of people seated at a dining table, each with his portion in front of him. He wants to figure out which one is the master of the house. How can he tell? He will wait until the next serving dish is brought to the table, and see which one serves the portions to the others. Similarly, since Sarah produced the milk on which the children of the other women nursed, it was evident that she was the principal figure in the miracle of the births.
The Maggid now turns to the second Midrash and asks: Why do the Sages link the verse about the עקרת הבית with Sarah’s giving birth? The similarity between the phrase עקרת הבית and the word עקרה does not seem a strong enough reason. It appears that the idea is as follows. The phrase עקרת הבית is related to the word עיקר, meaning principal. Thus, the Midrash is teaching that Sarah was, as we explained, the principal figure in the miracle of the births. The proof is that she became a “joyous mother of children” – since she nursed all the other children, it was as if she was the mother of them all.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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