The Torah portion of Toldot begins with prayer and ends with a conflict around blessings. These two forms of communication are strikingly different. On the most simple of levels,blessings are conferred by an individual on another as a method of releasing inner spiritual truths ensconced within that individual. It draws out what lies buried within. Prayers on the other hand are given over by individuals to G-d. How do they “work”? Does G-d “need” our prayers and what effect do they have on Him, if any?
In the world we live in, we pray for things to happen and for others not to. Yet those prayers do not always achieve what we set out for them to do. Yet they always achieve what Hashem intended for them to do. Prayer does not change G-d’s mind, it changes us.
We read that King Hezekiah is told of the Divine decree declaring that he would die. He turns to the wall in prayer and Hashem thereupon rescinds the decree ( 2 Kings 20:1-6). What did Hezekiah say that G-d was not already aware of and brought about the seeming change? In actual fact, his prayer did not change G-d’s mind at all. Rather Hezekiah’s prayer changed Hezekiah. He became a new Hezekiah after prayer, a new vessel, and as a result was worthy of a different decree.
A deeper understanding of the meaning of prayer can be gleaned from this week’s Torah portion of Toldot
“And Isaac prayed to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived.( Genesis 25:21.)
Both the words and “Isaac prayed ( vaYeatar Yitzchak) ” and the words Hashem accepted his prayer ( vateater lo Hashem))are rooted in the same word. Why would prayer and the acceptance of prayer use the same word formation?
Our sages connect the word “vayeatar” to the word VaYachtor ( to dig through) .That is to say that it is a type of prayer that creates a tunnel. The Netivot Hashalom explains that there are times that a wall of steel exits between us and G-d and our prayers seem orphaned. In such times there is a necessity to dig deeper and create a channel around and under the wall. G-d’s answering response comes through the same vessel.
The evil king Manasseh turns back to G-d at the end of his life and we read “And he prayed unto Him; and He was entreated ( vayeater) of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Hashem was God.” (II Chronicles33:13). The gemara describes that G-d created a “tunnel”
(a machteret) that circumvented the attribute of Justice to allow his prayers to be heard and answered. So great is the power of a penitent heart. (tractate Sanhedrin 103a)When prayer becomes an arduous, intense, and difficult digging through the obstacles , that effort is mirrored by G-d.
There is another level as well
Our Sages also point to the fact that the Hebrew word for plead/ pray (VaYeatar) is also related to the word for pitchfork (Yevamot 64a). Just as a pitchfork turns the sheaves of grain from one position to another, so does sincere prayer change direction of G-d’s plan .Hashem has a plan and destiny for all of His creations. That plan can move through the attribute of Divine Justice or it could transverse through the attribute of Compassion.
It all is a function of what type of vessel we have become. The “Veyatar” form of prayer changes us. We become changed into a vessel where Hashem’s plan for us can flow with and through Hessed/ compassion as opposed the opposite.
May it be so for us as we are entering into a period of great unrest in the world and great dangers around us.