PRAYER AND CHOICES

Torah Portion of Toldot  Genesis 25:19-28:9

Moshe Kempinski

One of the greatest gifts G-d has given mankind is the power to choose.

“And now, Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you ( ShoEl Meimach) , but to fear Hashem your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 10:12)

The verb to “ASK ( SHO-EL) ” pre-supposes the possibility of choice.

In the words of the sages ” Everything is in the hand of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven” (Megilla 25a).

Understanding that truth enables us to understand the mystery of Prayer.

How does prayer work?

Are the words we declare truly capable of making changes in the Heavenly plan. Is G-d waiting for words of praise or is He somehow in need of being placated.

Obviously not!

Then what does prayer actually achieve?

Prayer does not change G-d’s mind, it changes us.

We read that King Hezekiah is told of the Divine decree declaring that he would die. “In those days Hezekiah became critically ill, when Isaiah the son of Amoz the prophet came to him, and said to him, “So has Hashem said, ‘Give orders to your household, for you are going to die and you shall not live..” ( 2 Kings 20:1)

He turns to the wall in prayer;  “And he turned his face toward the wall and prayed to Hashem, saying,”Please, O Hashem, remember now, how I walked before You truly and wholeheartedly, and I did what is good in Your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept profusely.( ibid 2-3)

 Hashem then tells Isaiah the following just as Isaiah was leaving the inner court of the King;

Return and say to Hezekiah the ruler of My people, ‘So has Hashem G-d of your father David said, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold I shall heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of Hashem. And I will add fifteen years to your life and I will save you from the hand of the king of Assyria, I will save you and this city, and I will protect this city for My sake and for the sake of My servant David.’ “”(ibid5-6).

What did Hezekiah say that G-d was not already aware of and what were the words that brought about the seeming change?

To fully understand the process of prayer we can turn to this week’s Torah portion of Toldot

“And Isaac entreated  (vaYeatar Yitzchak)to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer( VaYeater lo Hashem), and Rebecca his wife conceived.( Genesis 25:21.)

What do the words”Isaac entreated  (vaYeatar Yitzchak)” teach us?

The midrash DVARIM RABA (2) reveals that  Rabbi Yochanan describes the ten words used for prayer in the Tanach. Interestingly the word entreated  vaYeatar ” is not one of them.

Perhaps then , that word does not describe Prayer itself ,but rather the process and passion of that prayer.

We see its use in other verses in the Tanach

“Thereupon, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, “Entreat ( HaAtiru) Hashem that He remove the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let out the people so that they may sacrifice to Hashem.”(Exodus 8:4)

Also in the book of Job;

He entreats G-d (YeAtar) and placates Him, and he sees His countenance in prayer, and He requites man [according to] his righteousness.( Job 33:27)

In the book of Samuel we see it again

And David built there an altar to Hashem, and he offered up burnt-offerings and peace offerings. And Hashem was entreated( VaYeater)  for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.( Samuel II 24:25)

Furthermore we see that there is more to the word than simply praying because we see that it is a process that moves in two directions.

Both the words and “Isaac prayed ( vaYeatar Yitzchak) ” and the words Hashem accepted his prayer ( VaYeater lo Hashem) are rooted in the same word. Why would prayer and the acceptance of prayer use the same word formation?

Our sages connect the word “VaYeatar” to the word VaYachtor ( to dig through) .That is to say that it is a type of prayer that creates a tunnel. The Netivot Hashalom explains that there are times that a wall of steel exits between us and G-d and our prayers seem orphaned. In such times there is a necessity to dig deeper and create a channel around and under the wall. G-d’s answering response comes through the same vessel.

When prayer becomes an arduous, intense, and difficult digging through the obstacles strewn throughout our souls and psyches , we then witness that the  effort is mirrored by G-d;

 “And Isaac prayed (vaYeatar Yitzchak)to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer( VaYeater lo Hashem), and Rebecca his wife conceived.( Genesis 25:21.)

There is another deeper level as well.

Our Sages also point to the fact that the Hebrew word for plead/ pray (VaYeatar) is also related to the word for pitchfork ” Rabbi Elazar writes that the prayers of the righteous  is like the winnowing shovel ( ETER )that flips the hay over from one side to the other ( Sukka 14a).  Just as a the winnower turns the sheaves of grain from one position to another, so does sincere prayer change direction of G-d’s plan .

Hashem has a plan and destiny for all of His creations. That plan can move through the attribute of Divine Justice or it could transverse through the attribute of Compassion. How that plan will unfold is a function of what type of vessel we have become. He will either act with the Left Hand of Justice or with the embracing right Hand of Compassion.” His left hand would be under my head, and his right hand would embrace me.”( Song of Songs 8:3) .

In the end it is all is a function of what type of vessel we have become. The word “Veyatar” reminds us of how all forms of prayer changes us.

We can choose to become a vessel where Hashem’s plan for us can flow with and through Hessed/ Compassion as opposed to the opposite. The decision  to become changed is in our hands.

We have been gifted with that choice. The choice to decide on which path our destiny will evolve.

The most powerful thought in that truth of Divinely gifted Free Choice  is how much Hashem believes in us .  Hashem simply “knows”  that His creations would come to realize that the choice is in their hands . Eventually that right choice will occur.LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

Share this post

Leave a Comment