Parashat Eikev begins with Moshe’s promise to Benei Yisrael that God would bestow upon them great blessing in reward for their faithful observance of His commands. One of the rewards mentioned in these verses is, “Lo yiheyeh vekha akar va-akara u-vi-vhemtekha” – “There will be no sterile man or sterile woman among you, or among your animals” (7:14).
We might wonder, at first glance, what this promise adds to the promise in the preceding verse, which blesses the nation with fertility: “He [God] will love you, bless you and make you numerous; and He will bless the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, your grain, your wine and your oil, the issue of your herds…” Once the blessing of reproduction of both people and animals is already mentioned, why did Moshe then add the promise that there would be no infertility among Benei Yisrael’s people or cattle?
This question likely forms the textual basis for the Gemara’s reading of this verse in Masekhet Bekhorot (44b). The Gemara there interprets the words “akar” and “akara” (“sterile man” and “sterile woman”) as referring not to biological sterility, but rather to “sterility” in the sense of not producing students, and not producing effects through prayer. According to the Gemara’s reading, the Torah here promises the reward of not biological reproduction – which, as mentioned, appears in the previous verse – but rather the productive teaching and productive prayer.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his Oznayim La-Torah, offers a different explanation of this verse. He writes that the promise of national population growth does not necessarily guarantee the absence of infertility. This promise could be fulfilled by some or most members of the nation producing large families, with some remaining childless. The Torah therefore added that not only would the numbers of Benei Yisrael increase, but everybody would contribute to this growth, as there would be no infertility.
The Torah’s vision for Am Yisrael is not only one of outstanding national, collective accomplishment, but also that each and every member make his or her contribution. We must never think that we do not need to work to achieve because others are doing so. God wants us to produce as a nation, but He also wants each and every one of us to take part, to play the role we are each capable of playing. We must never resign ourselves to being “infertile,” figuring that we cannot or do not need to produce and make a contribution to our nation or to the world. We must all make an effort, each in his or her own way, to participate in our national effort to spread goodness and sanctity throughout the world, and to make it just a little bit better.