Mordechai Ben Attar
Montreal 2004

“Yitzchak petitioned Hashem opposite his wife, for she was barren; and Hashem answered him… “The Gemara in Masechet Sukka (14) comments that the word used for “petition” in this pasuk, “vayetar,” is related to the word, “atar,” which means “pitchfork.” The Gemara says: “Why is the prayer of the righteous likened to a pitchfork? Just as a pitchfork turns around the grain in the granary from one place to the next, so does the prayer of the righteous turn the Almighty’s mind from the attribute of justice to the attribute of mercy.” The question arises, why does the Torah allude to this power of “turning the Almighty’s mind” specifically regarding Yitzchak, and not regarding Avraham, who instituted the shacharit prayer, or Yaakov, who established the ma’ariv service?

A similar question may be asked concerning the paragraph recited in the shacharit service on Shabbat, the paragraph of “Shochen ad.” In that paragraph, we say, “In the mouths of the upright You shall be exalted, and upon the lips of the righteous You shall be blessed, and upon the tongue of the pious You shall be sanctified, and among the sacred You shall be praised.” The first letters of the words, “upright” (“yesharim”), “righteous” (“tzadikim”), “pious” (“chasidim”), and “sacred” (“kedoshim”) spell the name “Yitzchak.” And the third letters of the words, “You shall be exalted” (“titromam”), “You shall be blessed” (“titbarech”), “You shall be sanctified” (“titkadash”) and “You shall be praised” (“tit’halal”), spell the name “Rivka.” Why did the Anshei Kenesset Hagedola, who instituted our tefilot, decide to insert here an allusion specifically to Yitzchak and Rivka, rather than to Avraham and Sara, or Yaakov and Leah?

The answer can be found in our parasha.

Although all three of the avot prayed to Hashem, only Yitzchak do we find praying together with his wife. The pasuk says that Yitzchak prayed, “opposite his wife, for she was barren; Hashem answered him.” Rashi teaches us that Yitzchak would stand in one corner praying, while Rivka would stand in another corner praying.

As we know, every person is created with a certain dominant characteristic, either positive or negative. For this reason, Hashem provides a person with a mate. The man has a certain dominant characteristic, and the woman has different qualities and characteristics; by joining together, the two compliment one another, resulting in a blessed combination.

Hashem therefore declared after the creation of man: “I will make for him [man] a helper opposite him.” Man’s help will come specifically from his wife who will be “opposite” him. Yitzchak and Rivka serve as the perfect example of how this works. Yitzchak was a person characterized by the quality of justice (as we know from the story of the akeida), and he married Rivka – a woman characterized by the quality of kindness. Indeed, for this reason Eliezer determined that specifically the girl who would excel in the quality of chesed would be worthy of marrying Yitzchak. “It shall be, that the girl who… will say: Drink, and I will give to your camels to drink, as well – she is the one whom You have shown for Your servant Yitzchak, and through her shall I know that You have dealt kindly with my master.”

Now it becomes clear why specifically here, in the context of Yitzchak’s prayer, the Torah employs the term “vayetar” rather than the more common word, “vayitpalel.” “Just as a pitchfork turns around the grain in the granary from one place to the next, so does the prayer of the righteous turn the Almighty’s mind… “This notion is applicable particularly to the prayer of Yitzchak and Rivka. We also now understand the intent of the Anshei Kenesset Hagedola in their formulation of the Shabbat tefila: to allude to the fact that combined prayer, such as that of Yitzchak and Rivka, has the power to change Hashem’s plans from the attribute of justice to the attribute of mercy, from a situation of a barren woman to fertility.

May it be His will that through our prayers, together with the merits of our patriarchs and matriarchs, we will earn the privilege of seeing the actualization of Hashem’s promise to Yitzchak, “I shall increase your offspring like the stars of the heaven, and I shall give your offspring all these lands, and all nations on earth shall be blessed through you.”

Shabbat Shalom

Mordechai Ben-Atar