The True Power of Tefillah by Shimon Cohen


Very often, we see the greatness of our Avot precisely because of their humanity. For example, several of the Imahot struggled with infertility, including Sarah and Rivkah, and we learn invaluable lessons from their reactions. In this week’s Parashah, we see that Rachel’s pain of infertility goes overboard. She takes the drastic step of demanding from Yaakov, “Havah Li Vanim VeIm Ayin Meitah Anochi,” “Give me children, or I will die” (BeReishit 30:1). Yaakov angrily responds that he is not in God’s place. The Midrash clarifies that Rachel wants Yitzchak to pray for her to have children, not to be the one to give them to her . However, Yaakov does not believe it was necessary for him to Daven for her, as he already had children from Leah . Therefore, Yaakov answers that she should pray for herself, because she is the one who needs the children . In light of this Midrash, Yaakov’s answer seems to be especially harsh . Are his Tefillot dictated purely by his own needs?

Many lessons can be learned from this episode between Yaakov and Rachel. Even though Yaakov could have ended up with twelve tribes in the end from his other three wives, Rachel still wanted to be part of the holy task of building the Jewish nation. She takes three steps in order to help alleviate her crisis. First, she tries to take control of the situation by getting Leah’s Dudaim, flowers, from Reuven . Some Mefarshim explain that these flowers did have some sort of power tohelp women conceive . Next, she prays for herself. No one else could feel her pain or express her sorrow, so her own Davening is essential . Finally, when these two efforts failed, she tried to have her husband pray for her.

These three courses of action can easily be applied to our own crises. Our first steps should be to take action while still relying on Hashem, but it is also important that we have others pray on our behalf. A recent study at Duke University proved that prayer for someone else does actually help them. Out of the 150 patients who were being treated for heart disease, the patients who were prayed for, even without their knowledge, showed therapeutic benefits in secondary areas. A similar study was conducted in 2001 at Columbia University. Several women suffering from infertility were given in vitro fertilization. Some women were prayed for, but some women just received treatments without the benefit of prayer. The results were astounding: 50% of the women who were prayed for became pregnant, but only 26% of the women not prayed for did. It seems that in this case Rachel was right, and Yaakov should have Davened for her. It is of vital importance that we note the power our prayers can have for us and for others.

Adapted from a Shiur by Rabbi Stewart Weiss

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