In this week’s Parasha, Reuven goes out into the fields and finds some Dudaim, a form of flower whose identity is unclear. Rachel then makes a deal with Leah: in exchange for the Dudaim, Leah would get to spend the night with Yaakov. Why is this entire story important in the context of the birth of the tribes?
The Ibn Ezra suggests that the Dudaim were a known fertility aid, which is why Rachel wanted them. There is a problem with this opinion: if she wanted to have children, why did she sacrifice her husband, who was the real source of children, for a fertility aid?
The Ramban maintains that the Dudaim were not fertility stimuli, but rather fragrant flowers or fruits that were pleasing to Rachel. It is clear that Rachel was not using a fertility aid from the fact that when she did give birth, the Torah states “VaYishma Eileha,” “He (Hashem) listened to her,” connoting that the birth was caused by her prayer, not by natural means. The problem still remains, though: why did she give up a night with Yaakov for the sake of some aromatic flowers?
The Seforno comments that this transaction showed how much Rachel really wanted to have children. There is a concept that words are not enough; action must be taken to demonstrate sincerity. When Rachel sacrificed her night with Yaakov, she showed how badly she wanted to have children. All she had to do to get them was to give up one night. On the other hand, Chazal say that this thought process was wrong and showed a lack of respect for the righteousness of Yaakov, causing her to be buried apart from Yaakov.
If, as the Seforno suggests, Rachel merited having children by taking a concrete action, why is there an interlude between this transaction and that of Rachel finally giving birth? Perhaps the interlude, depicting Leah having kids as a result of the night she spent with Yaakov, demonstrates an important lesson in Tefillah and Chesed. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 92a) states that one who davens for others who have the same troubles as he does will be answered first. Also, the Parasha discusses how Yaakov’s two wives prayed and were rewarded with kids. When Leah gave the Dudaim to Rachel, she demonstrated a Chesed. By giving Rachel something that she could have used herself in order to have more kids, she showed self-sacrifice and put Rachel ahead of herself. This sacrifice led Hashem to answer her prayers first, giving her kids, and then answering Rachel’s by giving her kids. Even more astonishing is that Leah conceived on the first night; the one for which she traded her Dudaim.
This entire episode has great ramifications. When one selflessly puts another in front of himself, even sustaining a loss as a result, Hashem rewards him by answering his prayers speedily.