In the Torah portion of Toldot
we read how Yitzchak and Rivkah prayed for a child, as the verse says (Gen.25:21
), “And Yitzchak prayed to the L-rd opposite his wife because she was barren.”
Opposite his Wife
The commentaries give various explanations for the expression “opposite his wife:”
Rashi (based on Bereishit Rabbah 63:5) says that they were each praying in separate corners of one room and as such were opposite each other. Several reasons are given as to why they prayed in
1) Prayers Ascending Together
Yitzchak and Rivkah prayed at the same time and place so that their prayers would ascend to G-d simultaneously. In this way, even if only one of the prayers was found worthy, the other one’s prayer would be accepted too since they were uttered together (Etz Yosef on Bereishit Rabbah).
2) Praying for Each Other
Both Yitzchak and Rivkah were praying for each other, i.e., instead of focusing on what they needed, they focused on what their spouse needed. They therefore prayed in close proximity to the other so that their prayers could more easily focus on that person. This is why the Kohanim face the congregation when they bless them– so that they can concentrate on the recipients when they bless them (Yefeh To’ar, quoted in the Artscroll Mesorah Midrash Rabbah).
The Seforno points out that Yitzchak had no need to pray for children since G-d had already promised his father Avraham that he would have descendants from Yitzchak (see Gen. 12: 7 and 21:12). The purpose of Yitzchak’s prayer was that those descendants should come from the righteous Rivkah and not from another woman (that he otherwise might have to marry in addition to Rivkah). This is why the verse says that Yitzchak prayed “opposite his wife” since the main point of his prayer was that his wife should be the mother of his children. (See Bechor Shor by Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor of 12th-century France on the verse.)
- Yitzchak was in Another World
According to Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg (19th-century Rabbi of Konigsberg, Germany, author of Haketav Vehakabalah), Yitzchak was a holy man who was completely divorced from earthly affairs. This is why Avraham had to send Eliezer to find him a wife as he was not the kind of person to easily find one for himself. As such, Yitzchak was content with his lot, and he only prayed for children at the behest of his wife Rivkah. Hence the expression לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ which can be translated as “with the encouragement of his wife.”
Praying in Times of Need
Just as Yitzchak and Rivkah prayed when they needed children, so too is it a mitzvah for every person to call out and pray to G-d for assistance if and when they are in distress. In fact, the Ramban (in his hasagot on Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Mitzvah Asei, 5
) writes that this may be a Torah obligation.
In his words, “Included in serving G-d is to… pray to Him at a time of trouble. And that our eyes and hearts be turned to Him like those of a slave to their master, as the verse says (Numbers 10:9
) ‘When a war will come in your land… you will cry out with the trumpets and be remembered by G-d… and will be saved from your enemies.’ It is a mitzvah that if a calamity ever befalls a community, that the community cry out to Him in prayer and blow the trumpets (in ancient times).
King Solomon’s Prayer
“As King Solomon said (when he was inaugurating the first Beit HaMikdash), (1 Kings 8:35
‘If the heavens close up and there will not be rain as a result of sin committed to You, they will pray towards this place (the Beit HaMikdash)… And You will listen from heaven and forgive them… and show them the good path… and You will give rain on Your land…
‘If there will be a famine in the land, pestilence, blight, yellowing, locust, or caterpillars, or if any enemy oppresses them in their land or any plague or disease… In any prayer… offered by any person, each of whom knows their own affliction, when he spreads his palms towards this house, and You hear from Your heavenly abode and pardon and take action.’
The Ramban concludes, “If prayer is to be counted as a mitzvah, it refers to the mitzvah to believe that at a time of trouble the Exalted One hears our prayers and saves us from trouble through our outcries and prayers.”
Here are some examples of appropriate times to pray. They are from the sefer Ya’alzu Chassidim by Rabbi Eliezer Papo (of 18th-Century Bulgaria, author of the Peleh Yo’etz).
Starting to Do Teshuvah
When a person begins to do teshuvah (repentance), he should pray day and night to G-d that he not be judged severely and that he not stumble (and revert to his old ways.)
Tempted to Sin
If a person finds himself in a situation where he is tempted to sin, he should pray with all of his heart to his Creator that He save him, as our sages say (Kiddushin 30b), “The evil inclination seeks to overpower him every day, and if not for G-d’s assistance it would be impossible to best him (page 44).”
Going to Do a Mitzvah
When one prepares to fulfill a mitzvah, he should first pray to G-d to help him to fulfill it properly–in thought, speech, and action, with fear and love of G-d, and with great joy as is appropriate (ibid).
Not to Harm Anyone or Cause Anyone to Sin
One should always pray that he not cause others to sin and that he not bring about harm to anyone (pg. 61).
When Someone Forwards you a Tehillim Request
When any Jew is in pain, every other Jew is obligated to feel their pain and pray for them, as our sages said (Brachot 12b
), “Whoever is able to pray for their fellow and does not do so is called a sinner.” As such, it is proper for every G-d-fearing Torah scholar who reveres G-d’s name to compose a prayer that no trouble should befall the community or individuals in any way. He should say this prayer at least once a year at an opportune time such as during the Ten Days of Repentance (pg. 71).
As such, if one finds out that any other Jew is in trouble they should pray for them. (This doesn’t mean one must stop everything and say Tehillim at the moment they get such a request. But it is appropriate to have that person in mind when davening.)
Don’t Ignore the Plight of Others
One who could have prayed for others and did not will be judged (and perhaps punished). Thus Yehoshua bib Nun and the Men of the Great Assembly are faulted for not praying that the evil impulse be banished from the earth (see Erkin 32b
. And the Kohen Gadol (high priest) was considered at fault whenever an inadvertent murder happened during his time as he should have prayed that such a thing not occur (see Makot 11a
We see from this that the great men of the generation and the rabbis must pray for their generation and the members of their cities that no trouble befall them and that no goodness be diminished from them (pg. 300).
Tzedaka Should Reach the Right People
One who gives tzedaka to unworthy people might actually be committing a sin if the money is used to commit immoral deeds. One should therefore pray that G-d arrange that he give tzedaka to worthy recipients.
To Find a Fitting Wife
By nature, men are very affected by their wives (and vice versa), as it says regarding King Achav (1 Kings 21:25
), “Indeed, there never was anyone like Achav, who committed himself to doing what was displeasing to the L-rd at the instigation of his wife Izevel.” King Solomon writes (Proverbs 19:14
), “A wise wife comes from G-d.” As such,(an unmarried person] should pray that G-d grant him a good wife (see Brachot 8a
) [pg. 104].
Not to Be Disturbed
Since everything that happens to us is decreed by Heaven, one should pray that every matter in which he must get involved not disturb him from his service towards his Creator (pg. 289).
On Unusual Occurrences
Whenever something unusual occurs, one should pray that everything work out in a positive way. For example, if one’s wife is pregnant with twins, one should pray that both babies survive (and be healthy) [pg. 299].
G-d decrees how one will earn the money for his needs. A person should therefore pray that G-d should enable him to do this with ease, in a permissible way, and with honor, and in a plentiful manner (pg. 339).
Put It in the Prayer Bank
If one prayed for his fellow and was not answered, he did a mitzvah in that he prayed to G-d – who hears the prayers of all mouths. When one will be in the same situation as the person for whom he prayed or if his descendants will be in that situation, G-d will remember this mitzvah and save him or his descendants (pg. 143).
Here are some other interesting points that Rabbi Papu makes about praying:
Don’t Pray for a Supernatural Miracle
One should not ask God to perform a supernatural miracle. For example, if one had a baby that is so premature that it cannot live, one should not pray for it to live. Similarly, one should not ask to be miraculously transported to a faraway location. These are considered wasted prayers as G-d does not generally perform supernatural miracles. Even great tzadikim who are worthy of such miracles should not pray for them as the Talmud says that it is disrespectful to “bother” G-d to change the rules of nature (see Ta’anit 24a)
. How much more so in our era (when there are fewer tzaddikim), if a person prays for a miracle, he will be judged to see if he is worthy to ask for such a miracle. This judgment may cause his sins to be “remembered” (pg. 95).
G-d is at Our Side
The Torah says (Deut. 4:7), “Who is like G-d, our L-rd, who is near to us any time we call him.” This teaches us that G-d is near to every person. This is why one may pray at any time and say (in second person), “Blessed are You…” and “May it be Your will.”
Don’t say, “May G-d Answer your Prayers”
One who sees someone praying should not say to him, “May G-d answer your prayers,” because the person may be praying that G-d assist him in taking revenge from his enemies. Rather, one should say, “May G-d answer your prayers for the good and for the (betterment of the) service of G-d, blessed be His name (pg. 215).”
Praying for Spiritual Matters First
One should always pray for spiritual matters before praying for other matters. Even when praying for physical matters, one should clearly say that all of these requests are for the sake of Heaven (pg. 290).
Don’t Call Someone “Master” When Praying
When praying for one’s father who is sick, one should not say “Please heal my father, my master, (אבי מורי)” as it is disrespectful to call anyone a master when addressing the A-lmighty. This can be derived from the fact that Uriah was considered to be rebelling against King David by calling Yoav, “my master” (see Shmuel II 11:11 and Shabbat 56a). If this is true regarding a human king, how much more so regarding G-d A-lmighty. Rather, one should say, “Please heal your servant, my father.”
May G-d A-lmighty answer all of our prayers for the good and enhance our service towards Him!