Have you ever brought an awesome proposal to your boss – one that would make your work easier, the company more efficient and bring in more clients – only to have it REJECTED? You are convinced it’s a winning idea, so you present it again. You lay out all the data, explain the principles behind the changes and believe the chief “gets it.” And again, you are REJECTED. You’re disappointed, but you try again. Should you now be surprised when he throws you out of his office, saying, “Stop wasting your time and get back to your job. No means NO!”
Our Parsha opens by telling us that Yitzchak and Rivka were extremely persistent people: “Vaye’etar Yitzchok lenochach ishtoh“, “Yitzchok entreated Hashem opposite his wife” (Toldos 25:21). The word vaye’etar is rare, so Rashi defines it: Yitzchak and Rivka kept imploring Hashem, over and over, to grant them a child. This seems to border on being disrespectful and insolent: why keep asking after Hashem has clearly said “NO!”?
Let’s be honest. This question doesn’t just apply to Yitzchak and Rivka. It applies to the tefillos (prayers) of each and every one of us. We daven three times a day and repeat the same requests over and over- perhaps for a sick person, perhaps for a marriage partner, or perhaps for one’s livelihood. Why is it okay to ask for the same things over and over; shouldn’t we just make our requests and trust that Hashem has heard them and will do as He wills? I believe the following story (from With All Your Heart by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky) will help us understand.
There was a young boy named Dovi who had difficulty keeping up with his class. Dovi tried hard, but his mind would constantly wander; he simply could not follow the reading and discussions. When Dovi’s class started learning Gemara, he was completely lost. To make matters worse, the boys in his class teased and made fun of him. Finally, the day came when he told his mother he just could not go to school. After much cajoling, Dovi reluctantly went back to school, continuing to suffer.
One day, the Rebbe asked a question and Dovi uncharacteristically raised his hand to answer. The Rebbe called on him, jumping at the opportunity to build Dovi’s confidence. To everyone’s surprise, Dovi gave the correct answer. The next day, his Rebbe noted that Dovi followed along in the Gemara for most of the class. He was steadily improving. The Rebbe was very pleasantly surprised and he called Dovi’s mother to ask what had led to this wonderful transformation.
The mother told him, “A few weeks ago, the situation was so bad that Dovi refused to go to school. On that Erev Shabbos, I called Dovi over and suggested that since candle lighting time is an opportune time to daven for Hashem’s help and I was about to light candles, we should daven together that he will merit from Hashem to see the light of Torah in his learning. We davened and cried together. We did this for a few weeks and, with Hashem’s help, it worked!”
The Gemara in Yevamos 64 explains that the sole reason Hashem created both Yitzchak and Rivka biologically unable to have children, is that Hashem desires the tefillos of the righteous. Rav Shimshon Pincus zt” l explains there is a big difference between asking a person for something and requesting something from Hashem. A person who considers a request and says “no” usually means no. However, when Hashem does not answer our tefillos for something that is essentially good for us, it’s not because Hashem wants to deny our request. Rather, it’s to prompt us to ask again. . Hashem wants us to pray to Him and get close to Him, so when we get what we prayed for, we realize that it came from Hashem.
Rav Pincus learns a novel idea from this. The term “masmid” is generally used for someone who sits and studies Torah at every opportunity, with diligence and without interruptions. From the Rashi defining Vaye’etar, we now learn of a new type of “masmid“: a “masmid” in tefilla!
Hashem does not get annoyed at such a masmid. On the contrary, this is what He wants, that every one of us should be turned to Him at all moments for all of our needs, asking and asking. Our very first request, even before the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei, is: “Hashem sefosai tiftach…” – Hashem, open my lips. – Hashem, give me the ability to turn to you and pray to you.
Hashem’s door is always open. His appointment book is never full. We just have to ask and if it’s really important, to keep asking.