Parashat Toldot

There was an old woman who swallowed a spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

Remember this humorous yet ridiculous song? I thought about this when thinking about this week’s Torah portion.

Yitz’chak was forty years old when he took Rivkah, the daughter of B’tu’el the Arami from Paddan-Aram and sister of Lavan the Arami, to be his wife.

Yitz’chak prayed to ADONAI on behalf of his wife because she was childless. ADONAI heeded his prayer and Rivkah became pregnant.  The children fought with each other inside her so much that she said “If it’s going to be like this, why go on living?” So she went to inquire of ADONAI, who answered her, “There are two nations in your womb. From birth they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

When the time for her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. The first to come out was reddish and covered all over with hair, like a coat; so they named him Esav (completely formed, that is, having hair already).  Then his brother emerged, with his hand holding Esav’s heel, so he was called Ya‘akov (he catches by the heel, he supplants). Yitz’chak was sixty years old when she bore them.

Poor Rivkah, there was more than wriggling and jiggling going on inside her.

The word Tol’dot means ‘ the account of a man and his descendants.’   The Torah devotes the least amount of space to the life of Yitz’chak, as compared to Avraham and Ya’akov. One might ask why, as it does not seem that his role is any less significant.

One of His purposes was to draw the line between good and evil as far as Esav and Ya’akov were concerned. On a more personal level, we each possess some of Rivkah’s trouble, for within those there are two natures wrestling one with the other. There is a little of Ya’akov and a little of Esav within each of us because our flesh and our spirits are at odds with one another.

In every believer, there is the spiritual potential of Ya’akov. It is the potential to rise up, taking hold of the godly inheritance and to become Yis’rael. This is the redeemed soul, our new identity in Messiah Yeshua. Yet there also lurks within each of us our old man, the bitter and angry Esav. He thinks only of satisfying his fleshly appetites, and he resents anything which prevents him from doing so. Rav Sha’ul speaks of this problem in terms of ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’. Rabbinic literature generally distinguished between ‘the good inclination’ (yetzer tov) and the ‘evil inclination’ (yetzer rah). Even this great Apostle admits that these natures are at war within him.

Romans 7: 14-16. “For we know that the Torah is spiritual, but I am a flesh, sold into bondage to seeing. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practising what I would like to do but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Torah, confessing that the Torah is good.”

For 20 years, Riv’kah was barren. For 20 years Yitz’chak prayed for her.

— I pause here, because I see a great example for each of us—

Riv’kah was barren. Yitz’chak prayed for her, but she did not conceive, so Yitz’chak stopped praying when G-d did not answer his prayers?…

NO!   He kept on praying, until he knew G-d had given his answer. He prayed for 20 years.

v20  Yitz’chak was forty years old when he took Rivkah, the daughter of B’tu’el the Arami from Paddan-Aram and sister of Lavan the Arami, to be his wife.
v21  Yitz’chak prayed to ADONAI on behalf of his wife.

Twenty years passed between these two verses; v26 tells us that Yitz’chak was sixty when the twins were born. But for those twenty years, Rivkah was barren. Why were three out of four of the matriarchs barren? So that when G-d brought forth Yis’rael as a great nation, no individual could take credit, but it was accomplished by the miraculous works of G-d.

“vay-ye’tar Yitz’chaq ladonai l’no-khakh ish’to ki aqarah hiv vay-ye-atar lo adonai v-tahar riv’qah ish’to.”

“Yitz’chak prayed to Adonai on behalf of his wife.” Just the fact that Yitz’chak prayed for his wife should be an example to us men, who are married or hope to marry in the future. But I feel that Stern, again, has missed the power of this statement. The NIV also says he prayed for Rivkah. However, the AV and JPS say, “he entreated G-d on her behalf” whilst the NKJV translates it as “he pleaded to the L-rd for his wife.”

‘He entreated’ means he prayed fervently to the L-rd on her behalf. Looking up the word ‘Fervently’ in the dictionary, we see it means… “to show great emotion or warmth, passionate. It also means extremely hot. And linked to this word, is the word, ‘Fervour’ … intensity of emotion, fervency, zeal. He prayed, as the Hebrew word vay-ye-tar signifies, instantly or fervently, frequently and continually, for twenty years.

Again, the Hebrew word l’no-khakh ish’to means ‘before his wife,’ intimating that they prayed together.  The Jews have a tradition that Yitz’chak took his wife up to Mount Moriah, where G-d had promised that he would multiply Avraham’s Seed (B’reshit 22:17), and there, in his prayer with her and for her, he pleaded the promise made in that very place. We see here again an example that husbands and wives should pray together and this is reflected in Kefa’s caution, (1 Kefa 3:7) “You husbands, likewise, conduct your married lives with understanding. Although your wife may be weaker physically, you should respect her as a fellow heir of the gift of Life. If you don’t, your prayers will be blocked.”

So Yitz’chaq did not just pray for his wife Rivkah, but he prayed with intensity and great emotion. Not only that, but he prayed constantly, for twenty years, that G-d would bring about the promise made to his father Avraham and then to him. Ya’akov 5:16, says “Therefore, openly acknowledge your sins to one another, and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. ”

Pray for each other, and love each other. Do not stop praying for one another. After 20 years of praying… Riv’kah conceived, not with one baby, but two.

Rabbi Boaz