Parshat Vayetze

Did Rachel undergo fertility treatments?

We read in Parshat Vayetze 30:14-16:
During the wheat harvest, Reuven went for a walk and found “dudaim” in the field. He brought them to his mother, Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s ‘dudaim.’” She (Leah) replied, “Isn’t it enough that you took my husband? Would you also like to take my son’s “dudaim”? Rachel said, “Very well, he will be with you tonight in exchange for your son’s ‘dudaim.’” When Yaakov came back from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You will come to me, for I have hired you with my son’s ‘dudaim.’”And he was with her that night.
There is a dispute among the commentaries as to what type of plant the “dudaim” are:
Sforno says that when Reuven saw that his mother was unhappy that she was no longer having children, he brought “dudaim,” a pleasant smelling herb, the fragrance stimulating the human organs related to conceiving and giving birth. The rabbis taught (Bava Kama 82) that garlic had a similar effect. It is possible that the “dudaim” had an even better effect in stimulating the feelings of love between a man and his wife. This idea is based on Shir HaShirim 7:13-14:
Let us go early to the vineyards; Let us see if the vine has flowered, if its blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates are in full bloom. There I will give my love to you. The “dudaim” yield their fragrance, at our doors the sweetest of fruits; both freshly picked and long-stored, my beloved, I have kept them for you.
Based on Shir HaShirim, this plant is rich in fragrance. Rashbam says that the “dudaim” are figs as we see in Yirmiyahu 24:1:
God showed me two “dudaei te’enim,” baskets of figs…
According to Rashi, they are “sigli”-violets and in Arabic it is called Jasmin.
Ramban does not agree with Rashi as jasmine is not the same as sigli which is an odorous herb. He prefers Onkelus’ opinion that it is “yavruchin” mandrakes.
Ibn Ezra brings Onkelus’ translation, mandrakes that have a good smell. They are in the shape of a person since it looks like they have a head and hands. He comments: I don’t know how they help with getting pregnant since they have a cold nature.
Ramban believes that the correct interpretation is that Rachel wanted the “dudaim” for delight and pleasure, for it was through prayer that Rachel’s bareness was alleviated, not by medicinal methods. Reuven brought the branches of “dudaim” or the fruit, which resemble apples and have a good odor. The stem, however, which is shaped in the form of the human head and hands, he did not bring, and it is the stem which people say is an aid to pregnancy. And if this is true, it is by some peculiar effect, not by natural quality. Ramban adds: But I have not seen this any of the medicinal books.
After the incident with the “dudaim” we read (Breisheet 30:17):
God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Yaakov a fifth son.
And then Leah conceives again (verse 19):
Leah conceived again and bore her sixth son to Yaakov.
And again in verse 21:
Afterwards she gave birth to a daughter, and named her Dina.
It was only over four years after the incident of the “dudaim” that Rachel finally conceived (verses 22-23):
God remembered Rachel and God perceived her plight and opened her womb. She conceived and gave birth to a son. She said “God has removed my shame.”
Sforno explains: God remembered the efforts she made to produce offspring for Yaakov by giving him her maidservant as a surrogate and acquiring the “dudaim.” After she made these two efforts, she then prayed to God and He heard her prayers.
Even though the “dudaim” were not proven to work, Rachel was willing to do everything in her power and try every method available to her in order to try to conceive a child. She selflessly gave her handmaid to her husband as a surrogate and gave up a night with Yaakov to Leah in order to acquire the “dudaim.” In the end, it was through prayer and connecting to God that she ultimately conceived.
Rachel must be praised for not leaving any stone unturned in her quest to have a child.
We must give credit as well today to women who go through fertility treatments and even surrogacy, when available, to have a healthy child. We learn from Rachel that although prayer may be the key, prayer alone may not be enough.

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