Twenty years is a long time. That’s how long Rebecca and
Isaac remained childless.
According to the Midrash, Rebecca was physically unable to
bear children. It would take a miracle for this to happen. This
is why Isaac and Rebecca pleaded to G-d so often and with
such great intensity. Isaac would stand in one corner praying,
and Rebecca would stand in the other, not giving up until
finally, their prayers were answered.
Soon after they were blessed with children, Isaac and his
family relocated to Gerar, where he farmed the land and dug
wells. He reopened the wells of Abraham and dug his own.
He gave the wells names and struggled to retain control over
Praying and well-digging have much in common. For both,
one needs the qualities that Isaac epitomized: restraint, discipline,
faith, and introspectiveness.
The word used to describe Isaac’s intense pleading with G-d
is vaye'atar. The Talmud associates this word
with a pitchfork. Just as the pitchfork overturns the grain
on the threshing floor, so, too, the prayers of the righteous
overturn negative decrees.
The Hebrew word usually associated with praying is lehitpallel.
It has the same root as to judge and to join together.
The reflexive form is used, which signifies that a person who
is praying is meant to judge himself and acquire a new perspective,
while strengthening his bonds with G-d.
To pray means to step out of the many conflicts and fragmentations
of our lives. To gain a true judgment about ourselves,
our relationship to G-d and our world. To struggle to
control our distracting thoughts and our inner turmoil.
To pray means to dig deep within ourselves. To clear away
dirt, rocks, and debris. To have faith that eventually, we will
find water. Deep down beyond our self-centered ego lies the
fresh flowing waters of our Divine core. Prayer helps us become
reunited with that part of our selves.
To pray means to discover a fresh perspective about who we
are and our reality. The person who begins prayers should
be very different from the person who concludes them. You
began as someone ensnared in your own self-centered reality,
feeling arrogant and entitled. By digging deep into your
emotional and spiritual self, you emerge as a humbler individual,
aware of and grateful for all the good G-d has given.
In fact, perhaps this is how prayer actually effects change.
The person who starts praying may not merit what he or she
desires. But the newly transformed, far more spiritual individual concluding prayers may be worthy of what he or she
seeks—and use it to further spiritual growth.
In this week’s portion, Isaac teaches us that to pray is to dig.
Each one of us can get out our pitchforks and dig.
Let’s dig deeply.