The Torah’s statement in Parshas Toldos that “Yitzchak prayed across from (lenochach) his wife” raises several questions.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi asks: How could Yitzchak pray in front of Rivka? He would seem to be praying not to G-d but to his wife. The Maharal of Prague raises the issue of his being distracted by his wife. Furthermore, why would Yitzchak need to pray across from his wife? Does G-d need Yitzchak to point out Rivka?
Rashbam answers that Yitzchak prayed for his wife-about her, but not necessarily in her presence. He did not pray at or to her. Seforno and Redak maintain that Yitzchak simply stood across from her when he prayed. Redak claims that he did so in order to stir his emotions as he prayed. Just as visiting the sick stimulates one’s compassion to pray for them, so too did Yitzchak feel that by being in the presence of Rivka he would feel more compassion for her and pray with more devotion.
We are always encouraged to pray for all Jews; there are hardly any prayers, in fact, that are just for an individual. This fits well with the notion that prayer replaces the communal sacrifices brought in the Temple. The daily sacrifice was brought on behalf of all Israel. We too should pray for all of Israel together. However, we also are taught that prayers were instituted by our Forefathers, centuries before the Temple. This conception of prayer addresses the need for individual prayer for individual circumstance.
Jewish prayers emphasize the community over the individual. Our overriding concerns for the Jewish People and the State of Israel often distract us from the needs of the individual. Our challenge is to maintain our interest and concern for the individual within our universal and broader concerns. We have to continue to be concerned with our own personal needs and the personal needs of others, and not get lost in broad generalities. We cannot allow our communally oriented prayers to distract our heartfelt concerns for those who are nochachim, who stand opposite us in our own families.
We must follow the advice of the Talmud, which states, “One who has a sick person in his home, says [a prayer for him] in the blessing for healing.” We need to add our own private prayers to our communal prayers and we must never shy from pleading the case of the individual within the context of the community.
Rabbi Joel Finkelstein
Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth Congregation in Memphis, Tennessee