Toldot: Hope

Parshat Toldot opens with the heartbreaking yet hopeful scene of Yitzchak praying that he and Rivka will be blessed with children. Rivka, like Sarah before her, is akarrah, and it takes 20 years until she conceives. Many commentaries understand that Rivka, already proven to be one who takes action, was praying as well. How did they remain committed and hopeful for so long, in the face of such adversity?

Several unique elements may provide some guidance. The Torah depicts Yitzchak praying “l’nochach ishto,” in the presence of his wife. Rashi explains that they were equally devoted to their tefillot. Each stood in one corner, but together in the same room, highlighting the strength of their connection. Radak adds that Yitzchak looked at Rivka while praying and drew strength from her.

Also, the word used for Yitzchak’s tefillot is noteworthy. In fact, the same word is used twice –ויעתר- he entreats God and God responds to his plea. This mirroring of language highlights that Yitzchak’s (and by extension Rivka’s) tefillot were heard and answered. The Talmud interprets the word ויעתר based on the Talmudic word for pitchfork — עתר. Just as a pitchfork overturns grain from place to place, so does tefilla of tzaddikim change God’s decree from cruelty to mercy.

Today, in addition to grappling with issues such as infertility or health challenges, people are contending with loneliness and a yearning to see and hug loved ones. Yitzchak and Rivka teach us how to respond to such challenges — remain hopeful, be persistent, support each other, and focus on tefilla. Shabbat Shalom.

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