16 Nov 2023 Parshas Toldos: The Prayer of the Righteous
In the beginning of Parshas Toldos, we learn of the struggles of Yitzchak and Rivka to bear offspring. The Torah tells us that both Yitzchak and Rikva davened that offspring be granted to them.
וַיֶּעְתַּ֨ר יִצְחָ֤ק לַֽה֙ לְנֹ֣כַח אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ כִּ֥י עֲקָרָ֖ה הִ֑וא וַיֵּעָ֤תֶר לוֹ֙ ה וַתַּ֖הַר רִבְקָ֥ה אִשְׁתּֽוֹ – and Yitzchak davened to Hashem opposite his wife, for she was barren, and Hashem accepted his tefillos, and Rivka his wife conceived (Bereishis 25:21). Rashi teaches: לנכח אשתו. זֶה עוֹמֵד בְּזָוִית זוֹ וּמִתְפַּלֵּל וְזוֹ עוֹמֶדֶת בְּזָוִית זוֹ וּמִתְפַּלֶּלֶת – opposite his wife: he stood in one corner and davened and she stood in a different corner and davened; ויעתר לו. לוֹ וְלֹא לָהּ, שֶׁאֵין דּוֹמָה תְפִלַּת צַדִּיק בֶּן צַדִּיק לִתְפִלַּת צַדִּיק בֶּן רָשָׁע, לְפִיכָךְ לוֹ וְלֹא לָהּ – and Hashem accepted his (Yitzchak’s) tefillos, but not hers, for the prayer of a righteous person, the son of a righteous person, cannot be compared to the prayers of a righteous person, the child of a wicked person; therefore Hashem was moved by the prayers of Yitzchak (ben Avraham) and not Rivka (bas Besuel).
Why did Hashem accept his tefillos over hers? After all, is it not true that מָקוֹם שֶׁבַּעֲלֵי תְשׁוּבָה עוֹמְדִין — צַדִּיקִים גְּמוּרִים אֵינָם עוֹמְדִין – in the place where the repentant stand, even the completely righteous cannot stand (Brachos 34b and see Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 7:4). Why, then, was Hashem’s mercy aroused to answer their pleas through Yitzchak’s tefillos, over Rivka’s?
Sivan Rahav-Meir, world-renowned Israeli media personality, chozeret b’teshuva, and Torah teacher, relates, “When people ask me to talk about my teshuva story, I always say that there’s no great wisdom to learn from it. The story of people who grew up religious is much more exciting to me, precisely because it is not exciting. There is no great wisdom in becoming a ba’al teshuva. You come from outside without any coercion, you simply fall in love with the Torah. No teacher at school ever told me to make a beracha or to daven and no one criticized me when I studied Torah subjects. I came from outside of my own free will and choice – straight to the Torah, to G-d, to the thing itself. It requires real strength to grow up inside the religious community, and to find renewal from within. To continue the legacy of the generations that came before you and to add your own floor to the building you inherited – this takes great strength and fortitude.
“That’s why I most admire people who grew up religious and who light the spark within,” she explains, and immediately adds that this is not her idea. Rather, it can be found in Torah – specifically in our Parsha, Toldos. “Our Sages explain that Yitzchak’s prayer was accepted because he was a ‘righteous man who was the son of a righteous man,’ as compared to Rebecca, ‘a righteous woman who was the daughter of a wicked man.’ Why was Yitzchak’s prayer answered and not Rebecca’s? Wasn’t Rebecca on a higher level, specifically because she was a ba’alat teshuva? It seems that being a righteous son of a righteous man is not as easy as we might expect. If your father and grandfather went to Shul, in a world that constantly calls on us to innovate and reinvent ourselves and to rebel and break conventions – yet you still go to the synagogue with enthusiasm, with commitment, and with passion – then you are on a truly high level” (HaMizrachi, v.6, #4. R”H and Y”K 5784, p.57).
To find G-d on one’s own, as did our first forefather, Avraham Avinu (see Mishheh Torah, Hilchos A”Z, 1:1-2), takes immense fortitude, willpower, innovation, and determination. To leave one’s past, and chart a new course for oneself is heroism of the highest caliber. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “When the righteous man falls he has the strength to rise up again. However, there are those who do not have the strength and courage to stand up once more. They have no courage to rise. One of the main factors that prevent people from making amends and repenting is a lack of faith in themselves. They say it is too late. They state: ‘I am not capable of performing such a deed, of changing my life, of changing my identity and my personality.’ I remember a certain person, a very tragic person, who attended my shiur in Boston. He was very impressed. I am not bragging; I am just telling you the story. He was interested and moved by my teachings. I once asked him: ‘Tell me. I see that you wish to cling to Yahadut. why can’t you take the final step and make your home kosher? Afterwards, we will begin to think about the Sabbath laws.’ So he said to me: ‘Rebbe. I would like to, but I can’t do it.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. He answered: ‘Because my family will declare me insane and I will be locked up. In addition, I do not belong in your society. I am far away. I do not belong in your community. I live a different life. I have no courage. I have to die a sinner’” (The Rav, v.II, by R’ A.Rakeffet-Rothkoff, p.19).
Yet we learn from the prayers of Yitzchak that to remain steadfast in one’s Torah upbringing, to maintain passion for Torah and Tefillah, to forge a personal relationship with the RS”O, when one’s past is cemented in Judaism, this too is heroic and beloved to G-d. In an ever-changing world, when rebellion is condoned, tradition is shunned, and the ways of the past scorned, to remain a Jew – believing, loving, practicing, proud and strong – and to carry on the path forged by our fathers, takes tremendous strength indeed.
While Rivka left a wicked past (see Rashi to 25:20) and became an Em b’Yisrael and a true tzadekes, Yitzchak embraced the path of his past, and continued the legacy that Avraham and Sarah founded.
In our world today – where chaos reigns supreme and the forces of evil desire to destroy our nation and Land – both kinds of heroes are needed. Our nation embraces the tenacity and beauty of each and every Jewish neshama finding their way back to Hashem. And the RS”O hears the prayer of each and every Jew who continues to build on the great foundation bequeathed to him by his fathers.
And together, we will march forward to proclaim the name of Hashem in the world as once again, the enemies that rise against us will be destroyed, and the eternity of Am Yisrael will persevere.
May all of our collective tefilos be answered la’tova and li’vracha, בברכת שבת שלום,