“And G-d heard the voice of the lad” (Beresheet 21:17).
When the Children of Israel stood with their backs to the sea with Pharaoh in hot pursuit, the Torah says: “And the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem.” Rashi comments: “They adopted the craft of their Patriarchs.”
The People of Israel are a nation that prays. This talent is derived directly from our forefathers and matriarchs who fine-tuned a natural ability into an expertise. Avraham Avinu was one who prayed in all situations. He not only prayed for himself and for his wife Sarah to have a child — he prayed for those around him regardless of their merit.
When Hashem decided to destroy the wicked people of Sedom and Amorah, He felt it necessary to reveal His intentions to Avraham. Upon hearing of the pending disaster, Avraham began to pray on behalf of the vile residents of those cities. Unfortunately for the people of Sedom and Amorah, G-d did not rescind His decree and they were destroyed in a fiery holocaust. Our Sages teach that in any event the prayers of Avraham were not said in vain; they have stood his children in good stead throughout the generations.
Later we see that Yishmael, Avraham’s offspring from Hagar, prayed as he weakened from thirst and was approaching death. Hashem, over the objection of the angels, saved the boy, in spite of the fact that his offspring would in the future torture the exiles of Zion. Rashi points out that although both Hagar and Yishmael were crying and praying for salvation, Hashem responded to the sound of the boy’s cries. From here we learn, says the greatest of commentators, the prayers of a sick person on his own behalf are more powerful than the prayers of others on his behalf — and are accepted first.
This, however, seems to contradict another Rashi in this week’s parashah. Avimelech, the King of the Pelishtim, abducted Sarah Imeinu. His intentions were not honorable, but his evil plans were blocked by Heavenly intervention and our Matriarch was released unharmed. Avimelech’s people were punished in a miraculous manner. No women were able to give birth. In fact, all the animals and fowl were not able to produce offspring or lay eggs. When Avimelech released Sarah, Avraham did what he knew how to do best — he prayed for the recovery of Avimelech’s people and livestock. Hashem returned everything to normal in response to our Patriarch’s supplications.
Then the Torah begins the saga of Sarah and the birth of Yitzchak. Rashi comments that the Torah places Sarah’s expecting a child adjacent to the prayer of Avraham for the non-producing Pelishtim “to teach that one who requests mercy for a friend — and he needs the same thing — he is answered first.”
The question is: Is it best for one to pray for oneself — as did Yishmael — or is it more productive to pray for another with a similar problem — as Avraham did?
The answer is that when one has no one else to pray for, one should continue to pray for oneself. However, should one become aware of another who has a similar need, and pray for him, then the prayer becomes more potent and effective for the one praying and he will be answered first.
Life is a series of crises — if one solves one problem, a different one pops up in another area. The solution for all problems is to pray and to trust that G-d will do what is best. No prayer goes to waste — one should always pray. If the opportunity arises to pray for another with a similar need, jump at the opportunity to help another as one helps oneself.