In this week’s parsha we learn that Yitzchak and Rivka were married for 20 years before being blessed with children. They prayed constantly to G-d that they may merit offspring as it says in the beginning of the parsha: “And Yitzchak interceded to G-d in the presence of his wife, for she was barren, and G-d granted him (his request) and Rivka conceived.”
Rashi explains the verse according to Chazal: “Yitzchak and Rivka both prayed for children. They would stand in opposite corners of the room and pray together. However, the Torah stresses that G-d granted him (his request). To him and not to her. This is because the prayers of a righteous person who descends from righteous people are preferable to the prayers of a righteous person who descended from evil people.”
From Rashi's commentary we learn that Yitzchak and Rivka would often pray and implore together to the L-rd of the world that they may have a child who would continue the nation of Israel. And in the end, G-d finally granted them offspring in the merit of Yitzchak's prayer and not Rivka's. The question is, why was it only Yitzchak's prayer in whose merit they were blessed? The answer is that Yitzchak was righteous as were his parents, Avraham and Sara, but Rivka - who herself was righteous - was descended from the evil Betuel.
This is very puzzling. Why was Rivka's prayer not the one that was answered? Is there a more heartfelt prayer than that of a barren woman yearning to be a mother and hold her baby in her arms? Moreover, we know that, "in the place (spiritual level) where Ba'alei Teshuvah (returnees to religious practice) stand, the completely righteous can not stand." In that case, wouldn’t it be precisely the prayers of Rivka who grew up in a wicked home but was herself righteous that would be more desirable to G-d?
We can learn from this story an important and profound lesson about prayer. Sometimes we pray but our desires are not fulfilled. This may lead us to believe that prayers are not effective, G-d forbid. But the truth is that there is no prayer which is not answered.
Sometimes, because of Divine accounting, our prayers are not answered as immediately as we would like, but they are always fulfilled. And even if our request is not granted in our lifetime, it affects future generations and will benefit our children.
Avraham and Sara prayed for many, many years to be blessed with descendants who would spread the name of G-d in the world and live in the land of Israel. They themselves had one son, Yitzchak, who continued in their ways, but their many prayers were “stored” to benefit future generations. Therefore, when Yitzchak prayed that he and Rivka be blessed with children, not only his prayers but also his parents’ were beseeching G-d.
This is why “the prayers of a righteous person who descends from righteous people are preferable to the prayers of a righteous person who descended from evil people." It may be that if we compared only Yitzchak's prayer with Rivka's, then their prayers may have been equal or even that Rivka's prayer was on a higher level than Yitzchak’s. But Yitzchak did not come before G-d with only his own prayer, he came with the merit of his parents' prayers adding to his.
And this is always true. When we pray, we must remember that all of the prayers of our ancestors are joining ours, and we must also remember that our prayers will affect all of our future generations, with G-d's help. And when we receive G-d's blessing, we must humbly remember that we merited it not only because of our own prayers but in the merit of our righteous fathers and mothers who prayed for us in previous generations.
We pray every day in the Birchot HaTorah of Shacharit "and we will be, and our descendants, and the descendants of our descendants, and the descendants of the people of the house of Israel", and further on in Shacharit in the Shemona Esrei we say “You remember the kindnesses of the fathers and bring salvation to the children of their children”.
A Jew does not pray only for himself but for all of his future generations and the continuation of the nation of Israel.
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Rabbinical Organization and the rabbi of the Shaarei Yonah Menachem community in Modi'in.