Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. Genesis 25:21
The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, which means "offspring," is from Genesis 25:19 28:9, and the Haftorah is from Malachi 1:1-2:7.
While reading an article about the Jewish perspective on prayer, I came across the following line: "We don't pray so that we will get an answer; our prayer is the answer." That phrase resonated with me, but I had to read it several times before fully understanding what it really meant. This week's Torah reading illustrates this idea well.
The portion opens with Isaac in prayer on behalf of his barren wife, Rebekah. Isaac and Rebekah had been married for 20 years and still had not been blessed with a child. Like Sarah before her, and Rachel after her, Rebekah would struggle and pray for many years before having a child.
The Jewish sages ask an astonishing question: Why is it that God made all of the matriarchs barren? (They teach that even Leah was barren at first, but her prayers for a child were answered right away.) Then they explain that "God desires the prayers of the righteous." God intentionally made these holy couples childless so that they would turn to Him in prayer.
Doesn't that seem a little cruel? God makes people suffer so that He can enjoy their prayers? Our God is good and kind, so there has to be more to it than that, don't you think?
The sages explain that prayer is not for God's benefit; it's for ours. Through prayer, we grow and change. We become better, greater, and deserving of even more blessings. Prayer is the greatest change agent that there is. When we pray, we think about what is truly important to us and we regret all the mistakes that we have made; we pledge to move forward with greater appreciation for what we have and determination to be better people.
We don't pray to God so that He will change His mind. We pray to God so that we will change and if we change, our situation can change.
God wants the prayers of His people because He wants us to be the very best that we can possibly be. Sometimes, He will put us into situations that seem desperate because God wants us to turn to Him in prayer so we will grow into better people. We must realize that our challenges and difficulties are never meant to be cruel and punishing rather, they are given with great love and caring for our own good.
Prayer truly is the answer to every problem that there ever was, is, and will be. When we pray, we ourselves become part of the solution. As we change through our heartfelt prayers, we change our capacity to receive greater and greater blessings in our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President