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The story of Isaac and Rebecca from the Book of Genesis, and the tale of King Manasseh from 2 Chronicles, offer profound insights into the power of prayer and the boundless mercy of G-d. These stories reveal the extraordinary potential of persistence in prayer and how it can lead to miraculous transformations. In the following narrative, we will explore these stories and their significance in understanding the relationship between human supplication and divine intervention.
Isaac and Rebecca: A Tale of Persistent Prayer
Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, faced the agonizing reality of his beloved wife, Rebecca, being unable to conceive. Despite G-d’s promise that he would become the father of a great nation, Isaac and Rebecca remained childless. In his distress, Isaac turned to prayer. Genesis 25:21:
וַיֶּעְתַּ֨ר יִצְחָ֤ק לַֽד’ לְנֹ֣כַח אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ כִּ֥י עֲקָרָ֖ה הִ֑וא וַיֵּעָ֤תֶר לוֹ֙ ד’ וַתַּ֖הַר רִבְקָ֥ה אִשְׁתּֽוֹ׃
Isaac pleaded with Hashem an behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and Hashem responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived.
When we read this verse in Hebrew, we notice that the root letters of the verb עתר (atar) are used, and the translation from Sefaria uses two different words: “pleaded” and “responded.” The Artscroll translation uses “entreated” for both instances. However, one might expect the verb להתפלל (“to pray”) and “to answer” לענות to be used. In essence, it is a verb that stands out, it draws our attention. A verb that establishes a direct connection between what Isaac does and what G-d does.
Rashi explains that wherever this root עתר (atar) occurs, it conveys the meaning of heaping up and increasing. For example, in Ezekiel 8:11, it is used in the context of “a thick cloud of incense,” signifying an abundance of ascending smoke. Similarly, in Ezekiel 35:13, it is used to mean “You have multiplied your words against me.” This verb suggests an intense and persistent prayer, akin to a child incessantly pleading with a parent for something.
Isaac’s prayers were a reflection of his unwavering belief in God’s promises and his deep love for Rebecca. He was not only concerned about his own destiny but also about being “built up” through her, as she was the chosen mother of his future descendants, and not an other woman.
Bekhor Shor tells us:
On behalf of his wife. The main part of Isaac’s prayer was for his wife. He was not afraid, for himself, since if he was not built up through her he would be built up through another — for behold God had promised (lit. “made him trust” [?]) to Avraham “to your seed I will give this land”, and said to Yitzchak that he would call him seed. For this Yitzchak trusted for himself, but he wished to be built up from Rivkah.
The situation seemed even more complex because Rebecca was destined to give birth to Esau, what was the main raison that she was barren.
The situation is reminiscent of a story from “Sefer Yetzirah” that tells how some angels opposed G-d’s decision to create humanity, fearing that humanity would bring chaos and corruption to the world. Nevertheless, G-d chose to take the risk and create humanity because there would also be righteous individuals among them.
In Rebeccah’s situation, G-d decided, (to give in to Isaac’s pleas) to give her children, even though her one son would be Esau.
The story of Isaac and Rebecca evokes a fundamental question: Does persistent prayer lead to Divine intervention, even when it defies natural laws? Their story shows that, in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, relentless supplication can create a space where G-d’s mercy can defy the ordinary course of nature. In Isaac’s case, G-d responded to his unwavering pleas, and Rebecca miraculously conceived, paving the way for the fulfillment of G-d’s promise.
To explore this further, let’s consider the story of King Manasseh as found in 2 Chronicles 33.
King Manasseh’s Redemption: A Lesson in Repentance and Mercy
King Manasseh’s story from 2 Chronicles 33 presents another powerful testament to the transformative power of sincere repentance and Divine mercy. Manasseh ruled Judah for a prolonged period but spiraled into idolatry and wickedness, leading not only himself but his people into severe transgressions.
His actions led to the ultimate judgment of being captured by the Assyrians and taken into captivity in Babylon. However, while in captivity, a moment of deep despair and self-reflection led King Manasseh to turn to G-d in earnest repentance. In this narrative, the verb לחתר is used, which in Kabbalah is considered synonymous with לעתר, conveying the idea of bypassing or undermining the usual strict rules.
When Manasseh’s sincere prayers reached the heavenly realms, the angels in the heavenly court tried to block his path to repentance by closing all the windows so that his prayer would not reach G-d. However, G-d, who sees the depths of the human heart, intervened by creating an opening (bypassing) in His own throne, allowing Manasseh’s prayers to pass through. This extraordinary act of Divine grace demonstrated that genuine repentance can transcend the limitations of conventional justice and even override the established order of things. As a result of Manasseh’s sincere repentance, G-d restored his kingdom and his throne. Manasseh transformed his ways and ruled justly, with a newfound understanding of the power of repentance and the grace of God.
Manasseh’s story teaches us that when a person sincerely repents, G-d’s forgiveness knows no bounds. It underscores the idea that persistent prayer, like Manasseh’s unwavering repentance, can elicit Divine mercy, even in situations that seem impossible by regular standards.
The stories of Isaac and Rebekah and of King Manasseh underscore the profound impact of persistent prayer and sincere repentance on Godly intervention. These stories serve as a reminder that, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, G-ds grace can defy the laws of nature and human understanding. They emphasize the importance of steadfast faith (emuna and bitachon) and the power of persistent supplication. It shows that we should never give up, in addition it shows that there are times when breaking through barriers is the ONLY way to approach G-d in prayer. That this can lead to G-ds answer sometimes creating exceptions to the rule. Ultimately, these stories encourage us to persevere in our prayers and trust in the boundless compassion of the Divine.
By Angelique Sijbolts
 In this story, the verb לחתר (lachtor) is used, and Kabbalah teaches that it is synonymous with לעתר (le’ater) since the ע (ayin) and ח (chet) can be interchanged. לחתר can be translated as “to bypass”, “to dig”, or “to undermine.” It suggests that prayers repeatedly directed to God can bypass or undermine the strict rules, making reconciliation possible, even when it might seem impossible within the bounds of conventional justice.
With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration
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