"Isaac prayed to Hashem regarding his wife, for she was barren" (Genesis 25:21).
The Kli Yakar, a 16th century Torah commentator, explains that since Isaac was a tzaddik (righteous individual), and a son of a tzaddik, he could assume that his offspring too would be righteous. However, he feared that just as Hagar, an Egyptian princess, had given birth to Ishmael, so to Rebbecah, whose father and brother were both wicked men, may bear a child unfit to carry on the mission of the forefathers. Furthermore, Isaac speculated that this may be the very reason for Rebbecah's barrenness, that she may give birth to an unfit child.
Therefore, Isaac prayed that she give birth to a proper child. "And Hashem listened to him, and Rebbecah, his wife, became pregnant. The children agitated within her, and she said, 'If so, why am I thus?' and she went to inquire of Hashem" (ibid. 25:21-22). When Rebbecah was still carrying the babies in her womb and she passed a house of Torah study Jacob tried to get out; when she passed a house of idol worship Esau attempted to come out. This worried Rebbecah greatly for she understood that one of her sons was in fact drawn to idol worship and would be unfit to carry on the mission of the forefathers. So she said, "If so, why am I thus?" - what has become of me? Am I to be just as Hagar who gave birth to an unfit child! The Torah continues, "and she went to inquire from Hashem." Rebbecah wanted to know what had happened to all her prayers that she would not give birth to an unfit child. Had they not been heard? "And Hashem said to her, 'there are two nations in your stomach'." The Hebrew word for nations - goyim - is spelled without the letter vav, as if to say 'gayim' - which means "proud ones," and so the sages teach that Hashem was telling Rebbecah that two proud people, Rebbi and Antoninus, would come out of her sons. Rebbi, the compiler of the Mishnah, descended from Jacob. Antoninus, a Roman ruler who converted to Judaism, descended from Esau. He was a close friend of Rebbi and helped the Jewish people in many ways. Hashem's answer was that the prayers had been heard, and although she would give birth to Esau, nevertheless, later in history there would come out of Esau great people such as Antoninus who would convert to Judaism.
We learn a vital lesson about prayer from this episode in the lives of our forefathers. Although we may not always be answered the way we expect, our prayers are heard and they have an effect. A few years ago, Jewish people worldwide joined in fervent prayer for the well-being of a young Jewish man, Nachshon Waxman, an Israeli soldier who had been captured and whose life was at stake. After his murder, his mother was interviewed on national television. "What about all the prayers?" asked the newscaster to the grieving mother. "Where did they all go?" With great strength, Mrs. Waxman, in front of millions of viewers, answered: "G-d heard all the prayers. Sometimes G-d says 'no'."
Everything that Hashem does is ultimately for the good. From the limited viewpoint of a human being, many things may seem unjust and terrible, but from Hashem's infinite perspective all that He does is truly for the best. When we ask Hashem to do what we think is best and He says "no," it is not that He does not want to do good for us, rather it is that He knows what is really best for us. Yet even when Hashem says "no," our cries and prayers are not for nothing.
A recently widowed woman came to the home of Reb Aryeh Levin, an address for hundreds of broken hearts in Jerusalem, seeking consolement. Reb Aryeh tried to console her, but all his attempts were to no avail. The woman continued to weep. Finally she said to Reb Aryeh: "I will not be consoled until you can tell me what happened to all my tears! I prayed to Hashem and recited Psalms with all my heart that my husband should be well, and my eyes poured out streams of tears. Did they all go to waste?" Reb Aryeh answered, "Your tears most certainly did not go to waste. Hashem Himself gathered each and every one and treasured it as a precious jewel! Time after time, when danger looms over the heads of the Jewish people, Hashem will take one of your tears and wash it away!"
Avi Lowenstein, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Israel.
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