Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again. — Genesis 20:17
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeira, which means “and he appeared” is from Genesis 18:1—22:24, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 4:1–37.
The Jewish sages explain that the story of Isaac’s birth immediately follows Abraham’s prayer for Abimelek in order to teach us that when we pray for another person, we often are rewarded with that same request.
In this case, King Abimelek, his wife, and their female slaves were unable to have children. Abraham prayed for them, and they were able to conceive. The next thing we hear about is the miracle of Isaac’s birth. By praying for others, Abraham had his deepest prayer answered, too.
A student once approached his rabbi with a question about this system — one that we might all ask: Does this work even if a person prays for a friend only so that he himself will receive equal benefits? Abraham’s prayers were selfless and sincere. Does it work when the prayer serves a selfish agenda?
What would you answer?
The rabbi’s answer might surprise you! He answered, “Yes.” Then he explained it this way: God is the source of all blessings. But there needs to be a channel that is able to bring God’s blessings into the world. One such channel is prayer. When we pray, we connect ourselves to God. When we pray for a friend, we become the channel that connects our friend to God. When God sends down the requested blessings, we are inevitably filled with those same blessings, too.
Then the rabbi gave another analogy to help us understand this concept: Grass needs water, but in order to receive it, the water has to travel through a hose. Since the hose is the channel for the water to reach the grass, it can’t help but get wet itself. Similarly, when we ask for blessings on others, we are touched by the blessings as well.
What a powerful way to give and receive! We usually think of giving and receiving as two separate experiences: giving benefits others, while receiving is good for us. But here we learn that the two acts can become one. By praying for others who need what we need, we can give and receive at the same time! But don’t take my word for it. Try it out yourself!