"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.
In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Isaac prayed on behalf of his childless wife Rebekah. The verse tells us that God answered Isaac’s prayers and Rebekah became pregnant. However, it wasn’t as easy as it seems at first glance. This wasn’t the first time that Isaac prayed for children, nor the second, nor the third. In fact, Isaac and Rebekah had been praying that same prayer for 19 years! Now, finally, after nearly two decades of waiting, their prayer was answered. This was a prayer marathon, and it was no easy sprint to the finish line.
And this is often how prayer works in our own lives as well. Sometimes, we pour out our hearts to God and our prayers are answered immediately. However, more often than not, we don’t get instant results from our prayers. It’s easy to give up after praying for the same thing over and over again. The powerful lesson that we learn from Isaac and Rebekah in this week’s reading is that we must press on and press forward with our prayers. The very next one may be the last one – the one that opens the door.
The Hebrew word used in our verse that means “to pray” can also mean “to dig.” The Jewish sages teach that praying is like digging. Praying hollows out a tunnel between us and what we are praying for, until at last, we can reach it. However praying, like digging, takes time and patience. Just because we haven’t reached our goal yet doesn’t mean that nothing is happening; we are moving forward, we’re just not there yet.
The sages also point out that this word also shares a root with the Hebrew word for “pitchfork.” They explain that our prayers are like pitchforks. A farmer uses a pitchfork to overturn piles of grain so that the grain won’t rot. Little by little, the whole pile is overturned. Similarly, prayers overturn piles of judgment into piles of mercy. Little by little, our prayers change God’s judgment into mercy until we are deserving of what we are praying for.
I want to encourage us all to keep praying— no matter how long we’ve been praying already or how impossible our situation might seem. According to Jewish tradition, Rebekah was born without a womb. It was physically impossible for her to have a baby. And yet, after 19 years of prayer, a breakthrough occurred. She and Isaac dug through the impossibilities and God made a way for her to birth twins.
Friends, pray and pray again. Some things require only a few prayers, and some require many. Keep digging through until you arrive at your own breakthrough.