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Parashat Toledot: "He Fulfills the Desire of Those Who Revere Him"

  • Rav Itamar Eldar
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Yeshivat Har Etzion


Parshat Toledot:


"He fulfills the desire of those who revere him"

Rav Itamar Eldar



            At the beginning of our parasha, we read about Rivka's barrenness and God's acceding to Yitzchak's prayers:


And Yitzchak entreated the Lord opposite his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord was entreated of him, and Rivka his wife conceived. (Bereishit 25:21)


Rivka's barrenness joins the childlessness of Sara, about which we read in previous parshiyot, and that of Rachel, about which we shall read in the coming parshiyot.[1]


            Chazal noted the recurrence of this phenomenon, and proposed the following explanation:


Avraham's wife was barren and Yitzchak's wife was barren. Why were the matriarchs barren? Rav Levi said in the name of Rabbi Shila of Kefar Timrata and Rabbi Chelbo said [this] in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, desires their prayers. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: "They are wealthy [and] they are becoming. If I give them sons, they will not pray to me."  (Tanchuma, Toledot 9)


            God desired the prayers of our righteous matriarchs and, therefore, caused them to be barren.




            The principle underlying this midrash would seem to be applicable to any person facing some deficiency. Deficiency teaches a person to direct his eyes toward Heaven. Well-known are the words of Chazal regarding the serpent that was "rewarded" with unlimited and readily available food – "dust shall you eat all the days of your life" (Bereishit 3:14). Not being dependent upon God and in need of Him creates distance and erects a barrier between man and beast, on the one hand, and God, on the other. "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God" (Tehilim 104:21), writes the Psalmist, describing how all of creation entreats the Creator for food. All of creation, with the exception of the serpent, whose food is always at hand.[2]


            Prayer, then, has a simple and easily understood function – to satisfy man's needs and desires. But this function is liable to cause a person to forget that aside from the fact that he is entreating God to fulfill his needs, he is also standing before God, and this itself has a function. Deficiency is the empty space that forms in a person's life and allows him to turn his heart to his Father in Heaven.


            R. Nachman of Breslov speaks in several places about prayer itself constituting a response. This may already be indicated by the affinity of the term used to describe Yitzchak's prayer to the term used to describe God's response. The root atar appears twice in the verse: "And Yitzchak entreated (vayetar) the Lord opposite his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord was entreated (vay'ater) of him, and Rivka his wife conceived."  The first instance describes the prayer, while the second depicts the response. The Torah might be teaching us that the supplicant, in his very prayer, is already answered.


            As soon as a person's deficiency becomes part of the dialogue between him and God, the actual filling or non-filling of the deficiency also becomes an inseparable part of that dialogue. Filling the deficiency constitutes not only a correction of the situation, but also a Divine message – I have been appeased and I have accepted your prayer. By the same token, however, the non-filling of the deficiency is also a response – I don't agree, you are unfit, you did not improve yourself sufficiently, you did not pray enough. Anyone whose prayers have not been answered must consider the meaning of this non-response. What does God mean to tell him? "No!" is also an answer. Or in the terms of Scripture, "no!" is also he'atrut (a response). In the blink of an eye, atira (prayer) turns into he'atrut, and ta'anit (fasting) becomes a ma'ane (answer).


            In another context, R. Nachman writes:


And then he must cry out with a loud cry from the depths of his heart to his Father in Heaven, and then God, blessed be He, hears his cry and turns to his groaning. And it may be that by way of this alone all of the aforementioned questions and impediments will fall away and become totally null. In any case, God, blessed be He, hears his cry, this being his salvation. The letters of the word kushiya ["question"] are the initial letters of the words "Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice" ["Shema ha-Shem koli ekra"] (Tehilim 27:7). All that a person must do when he is overcome by the aforementioned question and impediment is cry out to God. (Likutei Moharan Tanina 46)


            In the first part of this passage, R. Nachman offers the classic interpretation of prayer. Man prays, God hears his prayer, and if he merits, his prayer is answered. In the second part, R. Nachman proposes a new understanding. It is possible that a person's questions and impediments, which in this case constitute the deficiency about which he is praying, will fall away and become nullified by his very prayers and cries. Thus, R. Nachman, in his symbolic manner and with half a smirk, notes that the letters comprising the word kushiya (question) are the initial letters of the words "Shema ha-Shem koli ekra," "Hear, O Lord, when I cry out with my voice."


            Here again, in a single moment, the question turns into an answer, the calling out into attentive listening.[3]


            We have seen then that the midrash and R. Nachman in its wake view deficiency and the prayer that it generates as an opportunity for renewing the dialogue between man and God. In this respect, deficiency serves as a goad, a provocation and a stimulus.




            R. Kook, ztz"l, offers a deeper meaning to deficiency and its function in this world:


Rav Chama bar Chanina says: If a person sees that he had prayed, but has not been answered, he should pray again. As it says: "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen you heart; and wait on the Lord (Tehilim 27:14)" (Berakhot 32b). … The objective of prayer is… to expand one's spiritual faculties with images of holiness and perfection, and to actualize the soul's potential perfection. The pathways of these images are many and wide, branching out in endless ways. All mysteries are revealed before the Creator of the universe, which specific spiritual image is appropriate but lacking in each particular individual to be perfected thereby. Parallel to what is needed for perfection, arranged through His supreme wisdom, is some deficiency that requires prayer. Sometimes acceptance of the prayer is delayed, just as the spiritual image required for perfection has not reached the full depths of the soul, so that it must be repeated several times. Thus, a person who has not been answered, must pray again. (Olat Re'iya, p. 25).


R. Kook takes the act of prayer beyond what we have seen thus far. The objective of prayer, according to R. Kook, is to strengthen a person's spiritual faculties and actualize his potential perfection.


The first stage in the act of prayer is a process of self-improvement, involving introspection, moral stock-taking, and a person's deep understanding of himself.[4]


In the second stage, the person summons all his spiritual faculties, the hope that lies hidden within him, the optimism and the faith that everything can be repaired, and directs them all toward prayer and a yearning for improvement. This is an internal process of repair that begins with a specific deficiency, but goes far beyond it, bringing the person to himself and to the repair that he requires.


As long as the deficiency has not been filled, asserts R. Kook, it is a sign that the repair has not been completed. Thus, the person must go back and pray again, not only to fill the deficiency that has not yet been filled, but also to complete the process of repair. For the external deficiency is only a symptom, a warning light, a sign pointing to the internal deficiency, which is what truly requires repair.


Prayer – repairing the Heavenly worlds


            What we have seen thus far applies to any individual engaged in prayer, who by way of his deficiency and through his prayer - according to R. Nachman, renews his connection with His Creator, and according to R. Kook, repairs his inner spiritual deficiency.


            Very different and far more comprehensive are the prayers of the righteous. This is what the Gemara says with respect to the aforementioned verse: "And Yitzchak entreated the Lord opposite his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord was entreated of him, and Rivka his wife conceived."


Rabbi Eliezer said: Why are the prayers of the righteous compared to a pitchfork [eter]? To teach you that just as a pitchfork turns over the grain on the threshing-floor from place to place, so too the prayers of the righteous turn the disposition of the Holy One, blessed be He, from the trait of cruelty to the trait of mercy. (Sukka 14a)


Comparing the prayers of the righteous to an eter (pitchfork) gives the act of prayer enormous power. According to the Gemara, a tzadik can turn God's trait of cruelty into mercy. What enables the tzadik to do this? Is it just that his "merits" are greater than those of the ordinary person?


            It seems that it is not only the tzadik's merits, but also the very nature of his prayer, that constitutes the eter/pitchfork that he holds in his hand while he prays. Thus writes R. Efrayim of Sadilikov:


"And Yitzchak entreated the Lord opposite his wife… and the Lord was entreated of him, and Rivka his wife conceived." There are deep things here as my great-grandfather [the Ba'al Shem Tov] said. For everything comes from the Shekhina, and a person should understand that all the deficiencies that he has are a deficiency in the Shekhina, as it were, blessed be He and blessed be His name… Therefore all of a person's prayers must be to fill the deficiency in the Shekhina, as it were, and thereby his own deficiency will be repaired. This is the meaning of "The tzadikim are the messengers of the Shekhina," for the tzadikim understand through their own deficiency that there is a deficiency in the Shekhina similar to their own deficiency, and they unify it in perfect unity. It is clear that all zivugim (couplings) are by way of "knowledge" (da'at), and therefore coupling is called da'at, as in "And Adam knew, etc." (Bereishit 4:1)… This is what is alluded to in the verse, "And Yitzchak entreated the Lord opposite his wife." This means that he understood this through his wife who was barren that there is a deficiency, as it were… And this is "And he entreated the Lord," namely, he prayed that the chief of the world should be joined to the prayer… And this is "And the Lord was entreated of him," namely, his prayer rose, and a yichud and a zivug were formed… and thereby, "And Rivka his wife conceived." For just as it was done in the heavenly world, so was it done in all the worlds. Understand this well. (Degel Machane Efrayim, Toledot, Vayetar) (Bereishit 25:21)


R. Efrayim sees human deficiencies as an expression of a deficiency in the perfection of the Shekhina as it reveals itself in the world. Sickness, barrenness, the inability to earn a living, war – all these are garments and expressions of the imperfection of the Divine revelation in the world.


The vision of the end of days when there will be peace and not war, healing and not sickness, wealth and not poverty, is not a social vision, argues R. Efrayim. Rather, it is a spiritual vision that finds expression in the statement: "On that day the Lord will be one, and His name one."


God is always one, but the Divine name that reveals itself in the world, appears deficient and imperfect. When the name of God that reveals itself in the world and His Divine essence will be restored to absolute unity, or in kabbalistic terms, full coupling (zivug), all deficiencies will be filled and perfection will be everyone's lot. This is the gap between God and His Shekhina, or the gap between the idea and its expression. The more the expression becomes detached and distanced from the idea, the more its perfection becomes impaired. This impairment, which, in its essence, is an impairment of God's unity, effects the physical world in the guise of the deficiencies we suffer.


The tzadik with his "knowledge" is able to look upon the world and see that his son's illness is nothing but another expression of the deficiency of the Shekhina. An ordinary person is unable to see beyond the world of deficiencies; for him these deficiencies are the entire story. This is the absence of knowledge, or in kabbalistic terms – the absence of joining (chibbur), for intelligence is the ability to join the worlds - idea and reality, vision and application, garment and essence. The tzadikim with their knowledge turn in a moment from  "private people" into "messengers of the Shekhina." They ask nothing for themselves, but only for the Shekhina, for the Holy One, blessed be He, - "Do it for Your sake, if not for our sakes."


Thus writes R. Kook:


When a person prays, his faculty of desire expands. What most expands his faculty of desire is directing [his thoughts], in the fulfillment of his desire, to God. When a person's thoughts are joined to God, and his desire is then joined to Him with an inner mental connection, then all his spiritual faculties expand beyond all limits, and his good and lofty desire, when most expanded, executes its goodness. Prayer is an act, like any tangible act. Everything, however, depends upon the degree of holiness found in the supplicant's personal desire and in the Divine content that fills his soul. The prayers of the righteous cause a great change for the better in the values of the entire world. Just as a pitchfork turns over the grain on the threshing-floor, so too the prayers of the righteous turn the disposition of the Holy One, blessed be He, from the trait of anger to the trait of mercy. (Orot ha-Kodesh, III, p. 48)


            According to R. Kook, when a person prays on his own behalf, the efficacy of his prayer is limited. He is limited not only in his merits, but also in the spiritual faculties that he can harness on behalf of a personal request. All that he can bring to his prayer is his own desire, and even if we are dealing with an enormously powerful desire, we are still talking about a personal desire.


            When a person succeeds in directing his thoughts, in the fulfillment of his desire, to God, then the active desire is no longer his personal desire alone. In such a case, his prayer expresses the desires of all people, the Divine desire being their source. His prayer turns into a universal prayer, embracing the inner yearning that is built into the world to improve, to become better, and to return the Shekhina to its perfection. Such a prayer, writes R. Kook, turns into action.


            R. Efrayim writes in a similar vein. When Yitzchak understood that his wife's barrenness expresses deficiency in the world, his prayer turned into an action by which he renews the unity of the Holy One, blessed be He – the idea – and his Shekhina. When this action is performed, the physical expressions of that deficiency disappear – "And the Lord was entreated of him, and Rivka his wife conceived."


            Now we understand the explanations given by R. Efrayim and R. Kook, each in his own way, to the midrash regarding the eter/pitchfork of the righteous. The prayer of the righteous, writes R. Kook, is literally an action, like a pitchfork turning over the grain, for we are not dealing here with the classic model of prayer as we generally imagine it, involving a request and an answer. Rather, we are dealing with an action operating upon the heavenly worlds, nullifying the separation that had caused the deficiency. This action is compared to a pitchfork that turns over grain.


            R. Efrayim focuses this unique quality in the "knowledge" of the tzadik, namely, his ability to look upon mundane reality and see the heavenly worlds. This is the way he interprets the expression, "opposite his wife" (nokhach ishto). Standing up "against" the world is understood by R. Efrayim as the ability to understand through it the construction of the heavenly worlds, and thus to repair them.


The tzadik – foundation of the world


This understanding of a tzadik's prayer diminishes the legitimacy of a personal request, turning it into a matter of pettiness. This is what R. Kook says about personal requests:


When we pray for something, attention must be paid that our intention be to remove evil and darkness from the world and increase the good and the light of Godly life, so that when it appears, it will fill in not only a single deficiency, but rather all the deficiencies and all the blemishes. Our desire is total and absolute perfection. (Olat Re'iyah, p. 16).


These words are addressed not only to the tzadik, but also to the ordinary person, who is asked to direct his personal request to that heavenly desire to repair the world, to fill in all deficiencies, including the specific deficiency which the individual faces. The aspiration is for absolute perfection, and not the resolution of the individual's personal problem. This is the personal guidance for each and every prayer.


We find a similar and even sharper approach in the writings of the maggid of Mezhirech, a disciple of the Ba'al Shem Tov:


A person should not pray for his own needs; rather, he should always pray for the Shekhina that it be redeemed from exile. So too the Zohar refers to those who pray for themselves and not for the Shekhina "impudent dogs who bark give, give." (Magid Devarav Le-Ya'akov, Lvov, 1797, 3d)


            This approach, however, is not the only approach in the Chassidic world. R. Elimelekh of Lyzhansk, disciple of the maggid of Mezhirech, views the matter in a different light even with respect to the tzadik:


"And Yitzchak entreated, etc." It seems to me that these three things – children, life, and sustenance – require awakening from below (it'aruta diletata). The tzadik must set his mind upon them that they are necessary for the world, and in this way he is able to bring them into the world. But if there is no awakening from below, they cannot possibly be brought into the world even if he is righteous in all his thoughts and holy to God. Rather, the tzadik must descend a little from his [elevated] level to think about them that they are necessary for the world; then they will be brought into the world. This is what Chazal [meant when they] said: "Children, life, and sustenance depend not upon zekhut" – that is say, they do not depend solely upon the purity [zakut] and clarity of the person – "but upon mazal," in the sense of "He shall pour [yizal] water out of his buckets" (Bamidbar 24:7), that is to say, upon the tzadik who causes [Divine] profusion, when he sets his mind and thought to cause the pouring of life, children, and sustenance. This is [the meaning of] "With all your offerings you shall offer salt" (Vayikra 2:13). The numerical value of the word mazala is equivalent to that of the word lechem (bread), i.e., sustenance. And the word lechem is comprised of the same letters as the word melach (salt). And the verse states "With all your offerings (al kol korbankha)," that is to say, even when you draw the heavenly worlds close (mekarev) by way of your righteousness and holiness, nevertheless, you shall offer salt, namely, put your mind to draw close and cause the profusion of lechem, i.e., sustenance. Now, Yitzchak Avinu, of blessed memory, all of his thoughts were absolutely holy to God, that is, for the praise and glory of God, blessed be He, since for tzadikim even the prayers that they offer are called praise. It never entered his mind to pray for children in the world in the aforementioned manner; rather, all his intentions and prayers were for the sake of God, as stated above. This is [the meaning of] "And Yitzchak entreated opposite," that is to say, in opposition to the thought of his wife, for she had in mind the aforementioned thought that children are necessary for the world. This is [the meaning of] "because she was barren," that is to say, she would bring this thought to mind.  "And the Lord was entreated of him" means that God, blessed be He, changed Yitzchak's will from its original intention to this intention. The word vay'ater is used in the sense of what Chazal said: "Why are the righteous compared to a pitchfork? Just as a pitchfork turns over the grain on the threshing-floor, etc." You see then that the word eter means "turning over." God, blessed be He, forms the will of the tzadik. This is the meaning of "He forms the will of those who revere Him" (Tehilim 145:19), that is to say, that He forms a will for those who revere Him. Then when God changed Yitzchak's will that it be directed toward children, as stated, "And Rivka his wife conceived," that is to say, then he knew that his wife had conceived. This was not so at the beginning, when he did not know anything about this, because he was entirely conjoined with God. (No'am Elimelekh, Toledot)


            R. Elimelekh appears to be headed in the opposite direction of all what we have seen thus far.


            R. Elimelekh, like R. Efrayim, recognizes two levels of existence, as it were, the heavenly worlds and our concrete world. He too is aware that the tzadik is able to reflect upon the heavenly worlds and act in accordance with their standards. The tzadik has no personal desires; all his thoughts are directed toward the praise and glory of God: "For tzadikim even the prayers that they offer are called praise." The tzadik makes no requests. He is involved in repairing the worlds and constantly drawing closer to God. All this, however, R. Elimelekh sees not as a virtue, but as a deficiency.


            R. Elimelekh presents a different model for the relationship between the heavenly and mundane worlds, and thus also for the psychological processes required of the tzadik when he prays. "With all your offerings you shall offer salt" – says R. Elimelekh, "even when you draw near to God, remember the salt - the bread." According to R. Elimelekh, the physical world cannot be repaired until its deficiencies are expressed with full intensity and full desire. If nobody wishes that the small material deficiency be filled, it will not be filled. A stirring from below is necessary!


            The merits of the tzadik, his clarity of mind, and his closeness to God will not help to repair our material world. The relationship between the heavenly worlds and the material world is not trivial for R. Elimelekh, as it is self-evident according to R. Efrayim and R. Kook. The "tzadik who is the foundation of the world" is called upon to make the connection between them.


            The connection begins, asserts R. Elimelekh, in the tzadik's consciousness; in his ability not only to look heavenward to the repair of the heavenly worlds, but also to recognize deficiencies in the material world. It is the tzadik's function to cast his eyes downward to the material deficiencies in our world. R. Elimelekh also speaks of the "knowledge" required to fill the deficiency. For R. Elimelekh, however, "knowledge" refers to the tzadik's ability to cut himself off for a moment from the heavenly worlds in favor of connection, contemplation and even identification with the material world and its minor deficiencies, as it were.


            R. Elimelekh also describes how Yitzchak looks at his barren wife and sees before his eyes the heavenly worlds that must be repaired. His wife Rivka yearns for a child in this world. She wants the material deficiencies of this world to be filled. Yitzchak the tzadik, on the other hand, looks upon the heavenly worlds, his entire being dedicated to them. The lack of seed does not speak to him, and not for a moment is he distracted from communion with the Divine. According to R. Elimelekh, however, this is a deficiency.


            R. Efrayim referred to this psychological state as "opposite [nokhach] his wife." That is, penetrating the depths of the world and understanding the spiritual deficiency standing behind it. The term nokhach denotes profound understanding and inner scrutiny.


            This is not true of R. Elimelekh, who understands the term in the sense of contrast and opposition. The contrast between Yitzchak and Rivka is the contrast between the ability to truly stand before the world and accept it for what it is, and immersion in the heavenly worlds that nullifies the value of the material world.


            R. Kook speaks about the tzadik's desire that totally merges with the desire of God. R. Elimelekh, in contrast, speaks of God who "makes" the desire of the tzadik in the sense that He creates and fashions that desire. According to R. Elimelekh, the "eter" that changes is not the "vayetar" of Yitzchak, but rather the "vay'ater" of God at the end of the verse. God "lowers" the elevated desire of the tzadik to the level of that of Rivka, which expresses identification with and focus upon the material deficiencies of this world.


            According to R. Kook, God fulfills the desire of those who fear Him, because their desire rises to the point that it merges with the desire of God. According to R. Elimelekh, the desire of those that fear Him is made by way of the grace of God, who directs the tzadik to our mundane world, and allows him to bring his desire to its material deficiencies. Only when the tzadik's desire sinks to the lowest level of this world can its deficiencies be filled and the upper and lower world be united.


            According to R. Kook, the deficiencies of this world are filled when the desire underlying prayer is raised to a place where personal deficiencies becomes negligible in relation to the aspiration to repair the world. According to R. Elimelekh, those deficiencies are filled when the desire is lowered to a place where personal deficiencies becomes the most important thing.[5]


            The tzadik's communion with God, asserts R. Elimelekh, distracts him from the deficiencies of this world, and God helps him change his desire and remember once again the deficiency. God helps him understand that while the lack of unity between God and His Shekhina and between arikh anpin and ze'ir anpin is a great deficiency, nevertheless this world also has its deficiencies, the pain of which must be felt by the tzadik – barrenness, illnesses, poverty. All these are not only an expression of Divine deficiency; they constitute an entire world that can only be repaired and elevated when the tzadik descends into that world, understands it, and is pained by its deficiencies.


            To a certain degree, R. Elimelekh of Lyzhansk restores to the material world the value that had been removed from it by R. Efrayim of Sadilikov.


            Yitzchak needs his wife Rivka to show him the deficiency of barrenness in this world. Rivka may demonstrate similar ability when she sees what is lacking in Esav, something that Yitzchak is unable to see. In similar fashion, Ya'akov needs Rachel, who reminds him with the full force of life, "Give me children, or else I die" (Bereishit 30:1). So too Avraham needs Sara, who is able to see that "the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, with Yitzchak" (Bereishit 21:10).


            Our matriarchs taught our patriarchs whose heads were in the heavens to lower their eyes and look at the material world, to recognize its value, to see its limits, to feel the pain of its deficiencies, and to desire that they be filled.


            This perspective, together with the heavenly help of "He makes the desire of those who revere Him," provides the patriarchs with "knowledge," that is, the connection between this world and the heavenly worlds. This is what fashions the "tzadik – foundation of the world" whose head may be in heaven, but his feet are firmly planted with all his consciousness, thoughts and feelings on the ground. "A righteous man regards the life of his beast, but the heart of the wicked is cruel" (Mishlei 12:10). As Rashi explains: "'A righteous man regards the life of his beast' – what his beast and the members of his household need."




[1] It should be noted that of all the matriarchs, only Le'a was spared barrenness, though even in her case, Scripture states: "And when the Lord saw that Le'a was hated, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren" (Bereishit 29:31). The expression "opened her womb" seems to allude to the ultimate situation of a "closed womb," and to the fact that were it not for God's desire to compensate Le'a for her being hated, she too would have suffered barrenness along with the other matriarchs.


[2] We find the same idea repeatedly emphasized by Moshe Rabbenu in the book of Devarim, where he speaks of the difference between the way God led the people of Israel in the wilderness  - symbolized by the manna which fell every day from heaven, ensuring the constant dependence upon and waiting for God's munificence – and the way He would lead them in the land of Israel, where the people will build houses, plant vineyards, and sow fields, generating a new danger: "Beware that you forget not the Lord your God, in not keeping His commandments, and His judgments, and His statutes, which I command you this day: lest when you have eaten and are replete, and have built goodly houses, and dwelt in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage: who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were venomous serpents and scorpions, and drought, where there was not water; who brought forth water for you out of the rock of flint; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers knew not, that He might afflict you, and that He might prove you, to do you good at your later end" (Devarim 8:11-16).


[3] It should be noted that in R. Nachman's case, the matter is more understandable, for he speaks of a deficiency stemming from the inner recesses of a person's soul. Thus, R. Nachman teaches us that through his very turning to God, a person can extricate himself from the spiritual dead end that he had reached. Nevertheless, the comparison is valid, for R. Nachman is not describing the situation on the psychological-spiritual level, but on the level of prayer and response to prayer.


[4] The role of prayer in directing a person to himself has also been noted by R. Soloveitchik, who sees prayer as redeeming man from alienation and the lack of self-understanding. Thus, he writes: "The root of man's failure to understand his true and fitting needs lies in his capacity to err in his self-understanding and self-identification, that is, to lose himself. Often a person loses himself through identification with a false image. Because of this mistaken identification, he adopts a false set of needs, the satisfaction of which appears to him as essential. A person quickly responds to the pressures of certain needs, without knowing who it is whose needs he is trying to satisfy. Here sin is born. What is the cause of sin, if not man's satanic proclivity to err in his self-identification" (Ge'ula, Tefila, ve-Talmud Torah in Divrei Hagut ve-Ha'arakha, p. 262).

According to R. Soloveitchik, prayer is first and foremost a process of self-clarification and self-understanding. The deficiency regarding which a person prays is merely a sign and allusion to the true deficiency and lack of wholeness, that characterize every person inasmuch as he is a human being. R. Soloveitchik also relates with cynicism towards the person "who is not missing anything," for such a person is similar to a person who is sick but has no symptoms. Such a person is in far greater danger than one who is aware of his deficiencies.


[5] When Rachel seeks a child from Ya'akov, she turns to him with a harsh demand: "Give me children, or else I die" (Bereishit 30:1). R. Kook would interpret this demand as Rachel's recognition of the Divine deficiency underlying her barrenness. R. Elimelekh would interpret it as a capacity to fully experience the desire to fill the material deficiency – barrenness and requesting a child.


(Translated by David Strauss)