Toldot: Prayer and Compassion

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Toldot

For our readers in the 50 States- Happy Thanksgiving! For everybody
else- happy week of portion Toldot, which is the story of Yitzhak,
Rivka, and their children, Yaakov and Esav, twins with a troubled
relationship. At the beginning of Toldot, Yitzhak and Rivka are unable
to have children (like Avraham and Sara in the previous generation)
and thus we read that Yitzhak prays on Rivka’s behalf:

“Yitzhak pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was
childless . . . .” (Bereshit/Genesis 25:21)

Our Etz Hayim Torah commentary [the Torah with translation and
commentary that is used in many Conservative synagogues] offers a
beautiful interpretation of this verse. Etz Hayim sees Yitzhak as
being primarily concerned with Rivka’s needs in his prayer, asking not
for himself but for her. Now, it’s true that he probably wanted
children as well, but in my experience, prayer is often most authentic
when it is most generous and least self-centered.

Conversely, it’s also true that praying for another can evoke great
compassion and empathy in our souls, which then enables us to be even
more compassionate in our actions going forward. Prayer and compassion
are linked in a cycle- if we are not compassionate, then prayer for
another can bring us to compassion, and if we are graced with
compassion, then prayer is its fulfillment and strengthening, leading
us back to reaching out to others in love.

Today, when so many of us take time to give thanks for our blessings,
perhaps Yitzhak’s example reminds us to remember others in our
prayers, especially those who do not enjoy the prosperity, freedom,
and security that so many North Americans do. Pray for others at your
table today, and give thanks for the human capacity for
loving-kindness, which is one of the greatest blessings of all.

Happy Holiday and Shabbat Shalom,


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