KTI Connections: Tol'dot 5779
Our Torah reading this week, Tol’dot, focuses on the life of Isaac: the birth of his children, his adventures in the land of Israel, and the struggle between his sons for his blessings.
What is striking about Isaac’s life is how similar it was to his father Abraham’s: both men travel south during a famine, both pass off their wives as their sisters, both have conflicts with their neighbors. Both have two main children, with a protracted conflict over who will inherit. And both have a wife who experiences infertility.
When Abraham faced this problem, the solution was to use Sarah’s servant Hagar as a concubine to produce a son. Yet when Isaac faces this same problem, that solution doesn’t even seem to be considered. Rather, “Isaac pleaded with the LORD on behalf of his wife…and the LORD responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived” (Genesis 25:21).
Why was Isaac’s solution to pray for his wife, rather than to seek a child in some other way? One midrash suggests that Isaac was careful to heed the instructions of his parents, who warned him not to take a wife from the local women. That’s why he ended up with Rebekah in the first place. Since the concubine option was out, Isaac only could pray that he and his wife be able to conceive.
We may encounter moments in our lives when we seem to exhaust all of our options. When something that we desperately want or need is beyond our reach. It is precisely at these moments when we need prayer.
Not because prayer will magically solve all of our problems, like it did for Isaac. Rather, prayer helps us connect to the deepest roots and source of our being. It helps us understand our lives and our struggles in a much larger context. It gives us time for introspection and taking stock that may help us to see our situation differently, even if nothing changes materially.
As Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.” May our experiences of prayer, individually and collectively, do so.