“And Hashem remembered Rachel, and Hashem listened to her, and opened her womb. And she became pregnant and she bore a son, and she said Hashem has gathered in my disgrace. And she called his name Yosef , saying, ‘May Hashem bear me another son.”
After many years of barrenness, Rachel Imanu finally merits to give birth to a son. She reacts to this joyous event by asking for another child. This reaction seems somewhat surprising - It appears analogous to when a parent gives a child a gift, the child asks for another one instead of thanking the parent! However, in truth, it seems that Rachel’s desire for more children was not merely a desire for more in the realm of gashmius (physicality), rather it was a result of her great sheifa (desire) to strive in ruchnius (spirituality); for Rachel, having children meant playing a key role in the building of Klal Yisroel. Her request to have more children was a reflection of her own desire to merit to play a greater role in building Klal Yisroel. Thus it was not comparable to a child asking for another gift, rather it was more akin to one who has just completed a piece of learning asking Hashem to help him complete another one; that is not a sign of ingratitude, rather it is an expression of the person’s desire to grow more in ruchnius.
This idea can also help us understand another difficult passage in the Parsha. After Leah gives birth to four sons in quick succession, the Torah tells us that Rachel was jealous of her elder sister. Rashi explains that Rachel was jealous of Leah’s good deeds, because she felt that it was in the merit of her righteousness that Leah was granted so many children. Based on this reasoning, it would seem logical that Rachel strive to improve her own maasim. However, she does not seem to do this, rather she requests from Yaakov Avinu that he pray for her to have children. Why does she not immediately strive to improve her maasim instead of asking Yaakov to help her? Perhaps we can explain that included among the ‘good deeds’ that Rachel was jealous of was Leah’s intense desire and efforts to have children and thereby play a part in building Klal Yisroel. Consequently, Rachel strived to emulate Leah’s great desire to have children. One way of doing this was to request of a great Tzaddik, Yaakov Avinu, to pray for her to have children - this action in and of itself represented a way of improving her own maasim tovim.
In yet another section in the Torah we learn a further lesson about the power of the desire of the Imahos to build Klal Yisroel. After Leah has four sons, the Torah tells us that she stopped giving birth. Nonetheless she did not stop in her efforts to have more children. She was even willing to give her son’s dudaim to her sister Rachel in exchange for an extra opportunity to have more children. After these intense efforts the Torah writes: “And Hashem heard Leah and she became pregnant, and bore a fifth son to Yaakov.” The commentaries note that there is no mention of Leah praying to have more children, so why does the Torah say that Hashem heard Leah - she didn’t say anything?! Rashi explains that in this sense, the word ‘vayishma’ refers to ‘perceiving’ - “Hashem perceived that Leah desired and strived to create more tribes and as a result of that desire He granted her another child.” We learn from here that Hashem responds to an intense desire for spiritual accomplishment which is accompanied by great effort, even when a person does not pray to Hashem.
These examples demonstrate the importance of developing an intense desire to grow in spiritual matters. Without such a desire, a person can not achieve anything of great significance in the spiritual realm. The following story gives a great example of the importance of desire and a willingness to attain great achievements in the spiritual realm. There was once a meeting of many of the Gedolim of the generation and the descendants of the leaders of the previous one, including the Chofetz Chaim zt”l. Rav Yechezkel Sarna zt”l, the great Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron stood up to speak and he surprised everyone, saying that there was one person who had achieved more for Klal Yisroel than everyone present and their illustrious ancestors. Moreover, this person never learnt a daf of Gemara. And he confidently asserted that once he would tell the audience who it was, they would all agree. Who was this great person? It was Sarah Shenirer; she was a seemingly ordinary woman who lived at a time where there was no formal Torah education for Jewish girls. Consequently, young women from observant families were leaving Torah in great numbers. The scale of this tragedy was magnified by the fact that many Torah scholars were unable to find a good shidduch given the lack of suitable women. It is no exaggeration to say that the very future of Yiddishkeit was in great danger. Sarah Shenirer recognised the threat and founded the first network of Torah schools for girls, Bais Yaakov. She faced great opposition at the time but, with guidance of Gedolim such as the Chofetz Chaim and Gerrer Rebbe, she succeeded beyond her wildest expectations and, effectively assured the future of Torah observance. Thus, when Rav Sarna revealed to the audience the identity of this saviour of Klal Yisroel they unanimously agreed with his assertion that she had done more for the Jewish people than anyone else. How did she merit this? Rav Sarna explained that it was because she was willing to cry for the Jewish girls who were being lost to Klal Yisroel. Her pain at the churban that was taking place and her desire to improve the situation was the key in giving her the impetus to save them. Moreover, it seems clear that Hashem ‘heard’ her intense desire to improve the situation and gave her great siyata dishamaya in all her efforts.
A person can live an observant life and, to a certain extent, live on a kind of ‘automatic pilot’- going through the motions of keeping mitzvos but without any great desire to achieve spiritual greatness. We learn from the Imahos that the only way to achieve greatness is to develop great sheifos in ruchnius and to act upon them. May we all merit to emulate the Imahos and attain true greatness.