“Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren…” (Beresheet 25:21)
When Avraham returned from the Akeidah with Yitzchak, Rivkah was born to Betuel in Avraham’s former hometown. After three years, Yitzchak married her. Years passed and it became clear that Rivkah was barren. The couple’s reaction was to turn to Hashem with sincere prayer and to beg for the gift of a child. They did so for 20 years. The passuk seems to indicate with the words “because she was barren…” that the reason for the prayers was the barren wife of Yitzchak. Rashi explains: “He importuned much through prayer.”
What does an ill person do when test results are frighteningly bad? What does one do when one has applied to a job and receives the news that the application has been denied? What does a student do when he receives notice that his application to graduate school has been rejected? The greater the expectation of acceptance, the greater the disappointment of rejection. The initial disappointment may even reach despair!
In spite of the fact that Yitzchak realized that his wife could not bear children, he prayed fervently to Hashem. As the verse states, “Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife BECAUSE SHE WAS BARREN.” He knew that she could not have children and so he prayed even more intensely than before. He did so even though he realized that according to nature she could not bear any children! Yitzchak did not heed the words of doctors nor did he accept the crushing prognosis as fact. He did not despair — he prayed. He understood that he was not to accept the predictions of mortals but rather that the troubles were a signal to plead with Hashem. The correctness of his assessment was borne out by the birth of his unique son Yaakov Avinu.
The Gemara (Yevamot 64a) asks: “Why were our Patriarchs unable to produce offspring?” The Talmud replies that “Hashem desires the supplications of the righteous.” People assume that the reason we pray is because one has a problem or a need. Our parashah indicates that the opposite is true. Hashem desires a tzaddik’s prayers and so He sends a reason for the tzaddik to pray. If one sees the world as a place controlled by nature, one might despair when facing seemingly insurmountable circumstances. However, one should react by praying fervently in response to problems. The desire of Hashem is to hear one plead with Him for salvation; when one doesn’t, one is, in effect, denying Hashem His desire. Rambam (in Hilchot Taanit) says should one fail to pray in response to troubles, one is considered cruel. Wherein lies the “cruelty”? One might say that if one doesn’t respond to the initial affliction, one “forces” Hashem to send a stronger message and is considered cruel.
Our task in this world is to seek Hashem in a place where he is concealed. “Nature” is Hashem’s disguise. Tefillah is our statement that we don’t believe in natural events. We believe that Hashem is behind all that occurs. This knowledge gives encouragement to pray in the face of insurmountable odds and to overcome. Rather than despair, we hope that Hashem accepts our prayers and, after receiving what He desired, relieves us of our troubles. Amen.