Ju­daism

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - SH­MUEL RABI­NOWITZ

Last week, we fin­ished read­ing about the lives of Abra­ham and Sarah. In Toldot, we move on to the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of pa­tri­archs and ma­tri­archs: Isaac and Re­bekah. Any­one read­ing th­ese por­tions im­me­di­ately no­tices two op­po­site phe­nom­ena. On the one hand, all the pa­tri­archs and ma­tri­archs have their own spe­cial per­son­al­ity and unique life path that is ex­pressed in the spe­cial way they con­tribute to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Jewish na­tion. Thus, Abra­ham rep­re­sents lov­ing-kind­ness and faith; Isaac rep­re­sents se­cu­rity and set­tle­ment in the land, and so forth. On the other hand, there are cer­tain par­al­lel lines that re­peat them­selves in all three gen­er­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, they all deal with famine, or an­other ex­am­ple with which this week’s To­rah por­tion be­gins, each gen­er­a­tion deals with in­fer­til­ity. Sarah, Re­bekah and Rachel all dealt with in­fer­til­ity and were able to bear chil­dren only af­ter many years of try­ing.

How­ever: Did Sarah, Re­bekah and Rachel deal with their in­fer­til­ity in the same way? Did Abra­ham, Isaac and Ja­cob deal with their wives’ in­fer­til­ity in the same way? The an­swer is – ab­so­lutely not. Ev­ery pa­tri­arch and ma­tri­arch had a unique story and way of cop­ing with their in­fer­til­ity. In this week’s To­rah por­tion, we read a short de­scrip­tion of the way Isaac and Re­bekah coped:

“And Isaac prayed to the Lord op­po­site his wife be­cause she was bar­ren” (Gen­e­sis 25:21).

Isaac turns to God in prayer. What is spe­cial about the prayer is that it is re­cited “op­po­site his wife.” Sim­ply, this means that Isaac prayed for Re­bekah, not for him­self. Ac­cord­ing to this com­men­tary by Rabbi Ova­dia Sforno (a rabbi, doc­tor, and philoso­pher, Italy, 16th cen­tury), Isaac him­self was not in dis­tress since he had faith in God’s prom­ise to Abra­ham that Isaac would con­tinue in es­tab­lish­ing the na­tion. Isaac had no doubt that he would have chil­dren, sooner or later. What Isaac did not know was whether th­ese promised chil­dren were go­ing to come from Re­bekah or from an­other wife. Re­bekah, how­ever, was in dis­tress. There­fore, Isaac’s prayer was not for him­self as much as for his wife, Re­bekah.

The great bib­li­cal com­men­ta­tor Rashi (France, 11th cen­tury) speaks of this verse and de­scribes this prayer of Isaac’s as one of a cou­ple:

“Op­po­site his wife: This one (Isaac) was stand­ing in this cor­ner and pray­ing, and that one (Re­bekah) was stand­ing in that cor­ner and pray­ing.”

An­other com­men­ta­tor, Radak (a gram­mar­ian and com­men­ta­tor, Provence, 13th cen­tury) added an­other layer of mean­ing to the pic­ture Rashi paints:

“He prayed in the pres­ence of his wife so that he would be bet­ter able to con­cen­trate on her prob­lem.”

Ac­cord­ing to most com­men­ta­tors, Isaac prayed for his wife, not for him­self, and he did so when stand­ing near her, look­ing at her, feel­ing sorry for her and pray­ing from the depths of his heart.

By read­ing this care­fully and sen­si­tively, the reader finds the com­pas­sion­ate and gen­tle im­age of Isaac and grasps the rea­son God an­swers his prayer. “…and the Lord ac­cepted his prayer, and Re­bekah his wife con­ceived.”

It is in­ter­est­ing to dis­cover that even at Isaac’s and Re­bekah’s very first meet­ing, be­fore they were mar­ried, the sages of the midrash say that Isaac was busy pray­ing. Isaac – in all his ap­pear­ances in the Bi­ble – doesn’t speak much, but he is good at em­pathiz­ing with oth­ers, like Re­bekah, and do­ing what he knows how to do – which is to pray.

When a per­son prays from a place of com­pas­sion and car­ing for some­one else – that is the kind of prayer God an­swers. ■

Ev­ery pa­tri­arch and ma­tri­arch had a unique story and way of cop­ing with their in­fer­til­ity

The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

(TNS)

‘BY READ­ING this care­fully and sen­si­tively, the reader finds the com­pas­sion­ate and gen­tle im­age of Isaac and grasps the rea­son God an­swers his prayer: “…and the Lord ac­cepted his prayer, and Re­bekah his wife con­ceived.”’

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