Parashas Toldos

Near the beginning of this week’s parashah, the Torah states (Bereishis 25:21): “And Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, for she was barren; Hashem acceded to him, and his wife Rivkah conceived.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 63:5):
R. Yochanan said: “He poured forth prayers profusely [בעושר – a play on the word ויעתר in the verse, exchanging the ת for a ש].” Reish Lakish said: “He overturned the decree [of barrenness]. Hence the Torah describes his prayer using the term ויעתר, alluding to a shovel (עתר) used to turn over the grain on the threshing floor.” Opposite his wife – this teaches that Yitzchak was bowing down in one section of the room and she was bowing down in another section. He said: “Master of the Universe! Let all the children that You are giving me come from this saintly woman.” And, similarly, she said: “Let all the children that You will eventually give me come from this saintly man.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. When a person appears before a king to ask for help, he will not speak at length or make extensive requests. Rather, he will be very brief, and limit his requests. In the words of the Talmudic saying (Yoma 80a): “If you took hold of a lot, you have not taken hold; if you took hold of a little, you have taken hold.” He will ask only for the minimum he needs. This is so, however, only when he is petitioning on his own behalf. If he is petitioning on behalf of someone else, he will feel no hesitation or embarrassment, and he will plead expansively.
Similarly, when righteous people pray to Hashem on their own behalf, seeking their needs, they will ask only for the minimum necessary, but when they pray on someone else’s behalf, they pray expansively. Now, in Bava Kamma 92a our Sages teach that when a person prays for another person, and he himself needs the same thing that he is asking Hashem to give the other person, Hashem meets his own need first. Thus, when a person prays for someone else, he gains much more than he would have had he prayed only for himself, for Hashem extends help to him according to what he asked for, and when he prays for someone else he asks for more. In this vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 35:13): “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth, and I afflicted myself with fasting; may my prayer return unto my own bosom.” David is saying: “I prayed expansively for them; I wore sackcloth and fasted for their sake. And I confidently hope that I, too, will benefit greatly from my efforts – that what I asked Hashem to grant them He will grant me as well.”
Yitzchak prayed expansively that his wife bear a child; as R. Yochanan notes, and as Rashi mentions in a comment on our verse, the profuseness of his prayer is hinted at by the Torah’s describing the prayer using the term ויעתר rather than the usual term ויתפלל. Yitzchak was able to pray profusely because he was praying “opposite his wife” – on his wife’s behalf, rather than on his own behalf. At the same time, after describing his prayer, the Torah says that “Hashem acceded to him” – in line with the principle we mentioned above, Hashem responded by meeting Yitzchak’s need for aid in fathering a child, for, as the Gemara relates (Yevamos 64a), both Yitzchak and Rivkah were both originally barren.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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