Rabbi Denise L. Eger
This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Toledot focuses on the second patriarch Isaac and his family life with Rebekkah and the birth of their two sons, Esau and Jacob.
In the adventures of Isaac we hear echoes of his father Abraham’s life. Abraham’s wife, Sarah is unable to conceive and yet later their prayers are answered by the angels who visit their tent. This is like Isaac and Rebekkah who “inquired of God” and God answers.
In Abraham’s life story there are two sons who struggle with each other; Isaac and his older brother Ishmael. In Isaac’s story, his twin sons struggle as early as in his wife’s womb-Esau and Jacob. There is a famine which causes Isaac to head toward Egypt and an encounter with the king there just as his father, Abraham and his mother Sarah went down to Egypt to escape a famine and had a strange encounter with the king there. In both stories parents are playing favorites with children as well as the younger son inheriting the blessing and birthright even if it is by some extraordinary means. So in Abraham’s story Isaac inherits the mantle of the family tribe and in Isaac’s story the younger son, Jacob inherits the family covenantal blessing.
In other words Isaac’s life story harkens back to that of his own father’s and his own story is played out through the life of his two sons.
In truth we are products of our own families. Their stories shape ours. Their beliefs and values go into forming our personalities and our character. We learn from example both what to do and what not to do! And sometimes it is only through years of therapy that we can break through certain repetitive cycles of harm.
But this week’s portion also offers us another powerful tool. That of is the tool of prayer. As I mentioned above, Isaac and Rebekkah pray to God for children. Both Isaac and Rebekkah use prayer as a vehicle to bring their sadness, anguish, disappointment and hopes to the foreground.
When we use prayer as a tool it can give us the strength and fortitude and courage we need to change our lives. Prayer and meditation can help us re-imagine the our own lives and help us reframe our stories. In Isaac and Rebekkah’s case their prayers were answered by God. And they became parents.
Many of us don’t know how to pray or what to pray. We get caught up in the Hebrew or “getting it right”. But look at Isaac’s prayer and Rebekkah’s they use the words of their own hearts. This is always acceptable . As it says in Talmud, Ta’anit. “Prayer is the service of the heart.”
Prayer and meditation can help us be in the right frame of mind and heart to help us make real change and give us the courage to face difficult times and struggles. Then perhaps we can assess when it is good to follow the stories of our families and when we ought to break free of them. Prayer is our hope that we can.