Answering tefilot of Jews, both good and bad


The beginning of our parasha, Toldos, focuses on Yitzchak and Rivka. Unfortunately, like Sarah and Rachel, Rivka was initially unable to conceive:

And Yitzchak prayed to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer, and Rivka, his wife, conceived.” (Bereishit 25:21)

Rashi suggests the following interpretations of “opposite his wife,” and “accepted his prayer”—

Opposite his wife: This one (Yitzchak) was standing in this corner and praying, and that one (Rivka) was standing in that corner and praying. Accepted his prayer: But not hers, for the prayer of a righteous man, the son of a righteous man (tzaddik ben tzaddik), does not compare to the prayer of a righteous man, the son of a wicked man (tzaddik ben rasha). Therefore, [Hashem accepted] his prayer and not hers.

Rashi’s explanation of “accepted his prayer” is based on a statement of Rabbi Yitzchak in Talmud Bavli, Yevamot 64a: “Their prayers were answered due to Yitzchak, because the prayer of a tzaddik ben tzaddik is not similar (lefi sh’aino domeh) to the prayer of a tzaddik ben rasha, and Rivkah’s father was the wicked Bethuel.”

Rabbi Yitzchak intimates that the tefilah of a tzaddik ben tzaddik is qualitatively different, and by extension, on a higher level, than that of a tzaddik ben rasha. Yet, how can this be so?

Does not Dovid HaMelech state in Ashrei: “Hashem is close to all who call Him, to all who call Him in truth.” This verse clearly indicates that there is “a level playing field” when it comes to heartfelt tefilah and everyone has an equal opportunity to draw close to the Almighty.

In his homiletic analysis of the Torah, Oheiv Yisrael, the Apter Rav focuses on this very issue, explaining that Rashi found it difficult that Hashem accepted Yitzchak’s tefilah, and not Rivka’s, for even though the prayer of a zaddik ben tzaddik is not the same as that of a tzaddik ben rasha, nonetheless, the tefilah of a tzaddik ben rasha is very important in the eyes of G-d, who answers everyone “who call Him in b’emet.”

Rav Heschel’s answer to these questions is a tour de force that illuminates the deeper meaning of Rashi’s gloss:

 [The reason Hashem accepted Yitzchak’s tefilah and not Rivka’s] is because Yitzchak’s tefilah was that of a tzaddik ben tzaddik; as such, [Rivka’s tefilah, which was] in the category of tzaddik ben rasha, was deemed relatively unimportant by comparison (lo nechshavah kol kach). In truth, however, if the only tefilah in this instance had been [Rivka’s] tzaddik ben rasha prayer, then, beyond a doubt, it would have been of singular import before Him, may He be blessed, in its acceptance, and Hashem would surely have acted in accordance with her desire and will. Therefore, it is only when you have simultaneous tefilot in the categories of tzaddik ben tzaddik and tzaddik ben rasha that the former will take precedence over the later in its acceptance by Hashem.

The Apter Rav’s response is inspiring. It assures the entire Jewish people that our tefilot will be accepted as long as we beseech the Almighty in heartfelt sincerity.

May we all be zocheh to have our tefilot accepted and answered. V’chane yihi ratzon.