An Answer to Prayer

This week’s parasha, Chayei Sarah, tells of the death of Sarah, Abraham’s acquisition of what will be an ancestral burial ground, and the search for a suitable partner for Isaac. However, Isaac himself is mysteriously absent from most of this week’s Torah portion. While our sages have some interesting theories on where Isaac is during this time, I want to focus on the part of the text where he is actually present. 

Isaac goes out walking in a field as evening begins to fall and as he looks up, he sees that camels are approaching. Multiple commentaries translate the word for walking, la’suach, as meditating. Based on this, the rabbis in the Mishnah identify this scene as the basis for the afternoon prayer, Mincha. So what was Isaac praying for? The next part of the text and an accompanying commentary provide a beautiful answer.  

“Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Isaac. She alighted from the camel.

Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” 

Rashi, in quoting the midrash from Bereishit Rabba, tells us that while Sarah was living a candle burned in the tent from one Sabbath eve to the next and there was always a miraculous increase in the (challah) dough and a cloud was always hanging over the tent (as a divine protection). After her death, all these events had stopped and he goes on to explain that when Rebecca came, they reappeared. 

I think that at the moment when Rebecca saw Isaac walking in the field, he was meditating on the next steps that he was about to take in his life. Since his challenging experience in last week’s parasha, he was preparing to move into the role as the head of his family and praying that his potential partner would be able to fill the gaping hole left by the death of Sarah. Imagine his relief when he learned that this person actually exists for him, and that she is able to fill that role as co-head of the family with him. 

For me, this also speaks to the stories and traditions that are so important to us and that we elevate by passing them down from generation to generation. I’m currently thinking a lot about my maternal grandfather, who I never had the privilege of knowing in life, but I feel a connection with through inheriting his prized piano. The aspects of life that we prioritize for our families and our children are a form of prayer and the ability to share values with those who come before and after us is an important part of collective memory and community. 

As we move into a week where many will spend time with family, friends and loved ones, I want to extend the blessing that we shall all merit to benefit from the answers to these prayers and many more. 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving,