Toldot – Missing ancestral prayers

21 Isaac called out to YHWH the presence of his wife who was barren; YHWH answered his call, so Rebecca, his wife, became pregnant.

Genesis 25

Abraham had spoken directly to God, full conversations are recorded, but the words he used at this critical moment in time, when the future of his family and the promised given to Abraham seemed to be in doubt, are not.  Isaac’s plea for offspring might have been simple and direct:

Pray answer us YHWH on this day as we call out to you.

2 The boys were flailing about in her womb, she said,  if this is so, why me?

Genesis 25

Rebecca needed to understand her condition. No machines could give her insight into her awesome pregnancy. How would it end? How would she survive? But more than anything else she needed to know what the womb held and how the future would unfold. It wasn’t enough for her to sit and wait, it rarely is. No woman ever spent 9 months without fear and dread and  an excruciating desire to know what lay ahead.

She turned to YHWH to try to find an answer. Not just any god, not the clay figurines or a huge tree, but to YHWH that Isaac had entreated before her pregnancy. Until this moment, YHWH was only the God of her husband and of course father-in-law, but now it would be her God too.

Rebecca’s earnest request might have been like this:

Can my voice be heard? Will anyone understands my pleading words as they echo around me? No one in this family will ever understand the feelings I’ve had while bearing this burden. No one can empathize with my connection to my offspring. Come to my aid. May peace of mind surround me during these difficult times.

22 …then she went to  inquire of YHWH.

Genesis 25

This time Rebecca, not Isaac, got the answer from God!

23 YHWH said to her: two nationalities are in your womb, two people, they will separate from your womb; one people will be more intrepid than the other; the older will serve the younger.

Genesis 25

Just knowing more will not guarantee any solace. She would one day be the mother of two sons, as different from her as they were from one another.

46 Rebecca spoke to Isaac, my life is at an end because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob should take a wife from one of those daughters of Heth, from the daughters of the land—why should I live?

Genesis 27

She might have thought: I would not exchange one of my sons for even a million daughters, but A daughter-in-law could bring new life to me or speed my death. I am not ready to die yet; I just want to share my life and my son with a warm, compassionate woman. How can I bear him to marry just anyone? He has to find a sweet soul to love him and understand me. Is this too much to wish for? So Rebecca’s prays for her son’s wife:

May she love him truly – with all her heart, with all her soul and with all her might. May she befriend us and comfort us as the years go by. May her presence bless our family. May we also bring her joy!

Might this be Jacob’s prayer? There is love in me (Yesh bi ahava) – Arik Einstein


Rebecca did not ask God for anything, just to understand what had happened and for reassurance about the future. Many of our prayers are like hers now, pleas to understand the things that happen and for a way to overcome feelings of fear and trepidation. She was rewarded with a “Hollywood Ending”!

Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021