Praying to the God of Our Forefathers

Yael Eckstein  |  November 15, 2021

Yael Eckstein praying at Western Wall

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ — Genesis 32:9

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” from Genesis 32:4—36:43.

As a result of growing up as the daughter of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and now continuing the work of The Fellowship, I have learned a lot from my Christian friends. One of the most noticeable differences between us relates to our prayer lives.

Most Christians I know don’t use any set liturgy when they pray. Every time I hear Christians pray — with their spontaneous and heartfelt words flowing from what they are feeling at that moment — I am inspired. The personal expression is just so authentic and beautiful.

While I make it a point to talk to God and pray my own personal prayers, the majority of Jewish prayer is a set text that has been the same for centuries, even millennia. This is inspiring in a different way. When I say the words of our prayers, I feel the presence of all the generations of Jews who spoke to God exactly this way, in every time and place.

This identification with history is front and center in the opening words of the Amidah prayer, the centerpiece of our daily worship: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, and God of our forefathers; God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob.” Three times a day — morning, afternoon, and evening — Jews begin our prayers with these words, praying to the God of our forefathers.

The rest of the Amidah includes requests to God for wisdom, forgiveness, healing, and many more of our worldly needs. The Amidah concludes with a prayer for peace in the future.

Praying to the God of Our Forefathers

In this week’s Torah portion, we see that the first person to pray to the God of our forefathers was actually one of the forefathers. With his brother Esau and his army approaching, Jacob prayed to God, calling to Him as “the God of my father Abraham and the God of my father Isaac.” And he ended his prayer by recalling God’s promise for the future of His chosen people (v.12).

Jacob was afraid for his life, but instead of focusing on himself and his own immediate needs, he saw his situation in terms of God’s bigger plan, a plan that began with his ancestors and would be fulfilled by generations to come.

Jacob taught us that in a life of faith, we pray for God’s blessings not for our own sake, but for the good of God’s plan for the world, as He first promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Your Turn:

When you pray to God today, recall the greatness of past generations and pray for the generations to come.

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