Isaac and Rebecca prayed intensely for children, after many years of barrenness. Each would stand in a corner of the room pleading to their Father in Heaven for the blessing of children. “G-d accepted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived (Gen. 25:21)” Why was his prayer accepted, and not hers? Says the Midrash, because although Rebecca was a righteous woman, she was still the daughter of the corrupt and immoral Besuel. The potency of her prayers could not compare to those of Isaac — a righteous man, the son of the righteous Abraham.
How does the character of Rebecca’s parents change the effectiveness of her prayers? On the contrary, one could argue that the prayers of one who is righteous despite being raised in a corrupt environment should be even more effective. Just consider the obstacles she overcame!
There’s a tendency to get accustomed to what we have, even the greatest blessings. The first week at a new job we can be motivated to please our boss, bring success to the company, and win “Employee of the Month.” A year later we might more often be found at the coffee station than at our desks tackling a project. The Duke of Edinburgh once quipped, “When a man opens the car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.”
Undoubtedly, Rebbeca’s upbringing presented many obstacles to her spiritual growth, yet she managed to grow exponentially to the level of a Matriarch of the Jewish people. But, considering her upbringing, the moral and virtuous life was new and fresh and it was easier to maintain her enthusiasm in the service of G-d.
This was in contrast to Isaac, the product of Abraham and Sarah’s home. Noble deeds were almost second nature to him. With this spiritual “silver spoon” in his mouth, his Divine service was at risk of losing its excitement. He instead maintained freshness in his spirituality and continued to grow to be a Patriarch in his own right. That self-generated freshness shined through his prayers, and gave them unsurpassed sincerity.
When you see a Bar Mitzvah boy put on Tefillin for the first time, appreciate his sincerity, care, and enthusiasm and try to duplicate that in your service. Imagine you are doing your Mitzvah, or any good deed, for the very first time, and avoid the risk of going stale. When our Prayers and service of G-d are infused with geniune, wholeheated, enthusiasm they carry so much more potency.
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org