Isaac, Rebecca and Prayer

Parshat Toledot
Genesis 25:19-28:9
Rabbi Denise L. Eger

This week’s Torah portion begins with prayer; the prayer of Isaac and the prayer of Rebecca. Isaac and Rebecca had been childless. Isaac pleads with God on behalf of his wife (Gen. 25:21). We do not know the content of his prayer to God. We only know that Isaac took the time and energy to speak to God of their plight as a couple. He could have taken other wives to have children. But Isaac calls out to God, pleads with God to grant them children. And God hears his plea and Rebecca becomes pregnant.
And then during Rebecca’s pregnancy “as the children pressed against each other inside” (Gen. 25:2), she inquires of God. In her own distress Rebecca calls out to God. We don’t know if she physically was in pain or concerned about how her pregnancy was going. She knew that something was out of the ordinary. And she was worried. So she prays and God answers her.
Prayer and reflection by our patriarch, Isaac and our matriarch Rebecca are lifted up in this week’s portion as powerful example of our covenantal promise. We are in a relationship with God. In times of great joy and in times of fear or sorrow we can utilize the prayer and inquiry to the Divine to help us understand and to face our fears. Rebecca didn’t understand what was happening to her. She calls out in distress as she feared the children in her womb were in distress. “If this is so why do I exist?” (Gen. 25:22) she asks. She wants meaning. She wants to put her suffering and pain and fear about her children in a larger context. And she tries to do so through her prayer directed towards God.
One aspect of prayer is to try to put our own thoughts, our own situation into a larger context of meaning for our own lives. The word for prayer in Hebrew tefilah, shares a root with the word for judging one’s self. By looking at our lives, examining our situation in depth we can at times strive to put what is happening to us joy or sorrow in a larger frame of reference.
Will God always answer us? Will we always find the answers as Rebecca and Isaac did? Perhaps not. But through prayer and reflection we can begin to sort out the different aspects of our situation and build for ourselves a new way forward. This is our challenge and this is our inheritance from the prayers of Rebecca and Isaac. Let us go prayerfully forward.

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