In this week's Torah portion, Toldot, we are told that Rebecca is unable to conceive a child. The Torah points out that Isaac "entreated" God to help. It strikes me as odd that only Isaac would do this. Clearly Rebecca would have been asking for God's help as well. So why does the Torah only mention Isaac's plea?
There are many possible answers to this query. The first answer that occurs to me is that Rebecca's petition is a given. Generally, the Torah uses words sparingly, so why waste ink telling us that Rebecca cried to God for a child when we "know" that, as a young wife wishing to be a mother, she must have done so? The second answer might be that, God would only accept the prayers of a man. We know this is not true because we have already read that God and Sarah had conversations. We also know from the Rosh Hashanah Haftarah we read every year, that God answered Hannah's prayer for a child.
So why does the Torah present Isaac as the pleader? I think there are a few important lessons to be learned here. First, we should pray for others, especially our loved ones. Isaac could have taken the position that the problem was solely Rebecca's to bear. Instead, he actively addresses the issue. The act of confronting God on behalf of his wife is powerful and shows a deeply loving relationship.
But I think there is another lesson here. Isaac is hurting. He, too, wants a child. Rebecca's barrenness is Isaac's as well. Each time she does not conceive, is a loss to him. The Torah is telling us to take note of this.
I think that it goes just a bit further. Isaac is, indeed, hurting on a very personal level, but he is hurting for his beloved as well. In our lives we unfortunately know of several folks who have been diagnosed with various illnesses or have suffered physical or emotional setbacks. Our natural tendency is to reach out to the person with the illness; we seek to shelter the injured party; our energies go toward helping that person. But the problem does not reside only with the poor soul who has received a bad diagnosis. A spouse, child, and a parent, are each impacted by the shattering of a life.
God receives Isaac's prayer because the Holy One knows that, like Rebecca, Isaac needs God's presence. We are each created in God's image. As we travel through our days it is important to reach out to those around us who are suffering from illness. At the same time we need to be aware that the loved ones of that person need our physical, spiritual, and emotional help as well.
Do God's work. Share your strength. Repair the world one person at a time.
Shabbat Shalom - Rabbi Michael S. Jay