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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Toldos 5777 "Prayer for Clarity"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favored and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

After years of prayers and tears, G-d finally hearkens to the prayers of Yitzchak and Rivka and Rivka becomes pregnant. “The children struggled within her, and she said, ‘If so, why am I thus?’ And she went to inquire of G-d. And G-d said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated; the might shall pass from one regime to the other, and the elder shall serve the younger’.[1]

It is clear that this ordeal was not simply a matter of Rivka being unable to tolerate the intense pains of pregnancy. Rivka understood that the children she would bear would be responsible for the continuity of the traditions and lifestyle of her husband and father-in-law. Therefore, when she sensed an incongruity in the child’s behavior while yet in the womb she panicked.

When the children were born, their diverse personalities were immediately apparent. “Esav became one who knows trapping, a man of the field; But Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents (of Torah)[2].” The Torah relates that, ironically, Yitzchok possessed an uncanny love for Esav, while Rivka loved Yaakov.

Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt’l explains that Rivka’s prenatal concerns and the subsequent seeming preferential love that Rivka and Yitzchak had for their sons, is inextricably connected to the seminal first encounter between them.

“Yitzchak went out to speak in the field towards evening and he raised his eyes and saw, and behold camels were coming! And Rivka raised her eyes and saw Yitzchak; and she fell off from on the camel[3].”

The Medrash[4] explains that Yitzchak’s ‘speech’ was actually prayer, as the gemara[5] relates, “Avrohom enacted the morning prayers, Yitzchak enacted the afternoon prayers, Yaakov enacted the evening prayers.”

A Jew stands in prayer before his creator three times every day, to ask for his needs, and to strengthen his faith in G-d. In addition, Rabbi Meir Shapiro explains that the three time-periods of prayer symbolize three eras of time in Jewish history.

The morning prayers recited when the sun is rising and the world begins to illuminate symbolizes the golden ages of our people, when our monarchy was established, the Temple stood in Jerusalem, and the Torah was abided. Conversely, the evening prayers symbolize the most ominous times in our history when things were bleak and dark during the many periods of destruction and exile that we have endured.

These two periods do not detract us from prayer. When life is good and we are physically and spiritually secure we call out to G-d in thanksgiving, and clearly feel his embrace. When we feel frightened and forlorn we cry out to G-d for salvation and redemption, knowing that we have no else to turn to but Him. Dovid Hamelech expressed these two sentiments when he declared[6], “Pain and sorrow I have encountered, and the Name of G-d I will call; A chalice of salvation I will raise and the Name of G-d I will call.” Both in times of sorrow and salvation we turn to G-d.

However, there is an interim period that is neither day nor night. This is time that our Sages refer to as bain hashmashos (twilight). The day has begun to wane and the sun is making its rapid descent beneath the horizon, but the darkness of night has not yet shrouded the skies. It a period of confusion; it is neither day nor night, but a reality of its own.

This period of the day reflects the periods in our history of spiritual befuddlement and confusion. It is a time when we enjoy certain freedoms and widening of our limitations, yet at the same time there are some very precarious and perilous ensnarements that we must be wary of.

It was during this precarious period that Yitzchak went out to the field to pray. The Mincha prayer is recited in the afternoon as the day is waning but the night has not yet arrived. It was Yitzchak - who personifies spiritual strength and is undaunted by the luring temptations of this world - who is able to pray and connect himself to his Creator during that time of day.

As Rivka approached from afar with Eliezer and noticed Yitzchak in the distance, the verse relates that she was riding a camel. A camel is one of the few animals which possess one of the symbols that render an animal kosher but not the other[7]. In that sense the camel represents the time period of perplexity - when the boundaries of pure and impure can become obscured. It is while camels approach in the distance that Yitzchak recites Mincha to strengthen within himself the demarcation between light and dark, pure and impure.

Rivka, truly worthy of her role as the great Matriarch, realized the symbolism of this dynamic encounter. She understood the time period for which Yitzchak prayed and she was seized with fright. When things are unclear and the boundaries become clouded it is ever so much harder to maintain one’s faith. Thus, “she fell off from on the camel,” she feared the consequences of a world symbolized by the camel and how hard it would be to maintain faith during that time.

When Rivka became pregnant and realized that within her womb was both a penchant for good and for evil, the fear she felt at the time of her initial encounter with Yitzchak were reawakened. She feared that she had a child who would be confused, possessing both a desire for greatness and an insatiable craving for sin. She feared that her child would be unable to withstand such an inner challenge and so she sought the Word of G-d.

Yitzchak however was undaunted by what occurred. He did not share his wife’s fears of what might become of such a child, because he personally was able to withstand such confusion.

Rivka was then informed that there were in fact two different children – two different worlds – that would emerge from her womb. Despite the pain of hearing that one of her children would be inclined towards evil, Rivka was assuaged. She understood that a child who sets out on an evil path may one day repent and return, but a child who is befuddled may never realize how spiritually ill he is and may never repent.

The difference in outlook between Yitzchak and Rivka manifested itself in their relationship with their children. Yitzchak, the symbol of strength and spiritual control, saw the potential within Eisav and so he loved him and wanted to give him the blessings to help keep him true to his mission and destiny. But Rivka who grew up in the lap of wickedness and sin understood that Eisav would be unable to withstand the tests he would face and so she loved Yaakov, who possessed the light of Torah and its study.

Shacharis is recited before one engages in his daily affairs while Ma’ariv is recited after one has concluded his work and is returning home. Many people have fixed study sessions before leaving to work and many have in the evening after a full day at the office. But Mincha is recited in the middle of the day. While we are in the middle of engaging in our daily pursuits replete with meetings, deadlines, phone-calls, etc. we have an obligation to put everything on hold so that we can spend a few moments in quite meditation and reflection praying to G-d. That is the prayer of Yitzchak, the clarity of prayer in midst confusion and distraction.

This idea should sound very familiar to us because our world is “a world of Mincha”. In the Western World we enjoy freedoms and comforts that our ancestors could hardly dream of. We have achieved notoriety, success, and wealth that no previous generation has. At the same time our generation is spiritually feeble and in grave danger. The insidious distractions of the outside world have crept into our communities and our lives and threaten us very deeply.

There are so many examples of this idea. Perhaps this is most clearly symbolized by the internet, which today is ubiquitous. There is so much value on the internet, including endless amounts of Torah – audio, video, and written. Yet at the same time the dangers of the internet hardly need to be enumerated. There is no more glaring example of a confusion of the greatest good and the greatest evil.

It was of challenges such as this that caused Rivka to fall off her camel. Yitzchak taught us that at such times we must pray Mincha.

The gemara says that Elyahu HaNavi’s prayers were answered specifically during the Mincha prayers. We are answered then as well – specifically because it is so hard to concentrate and focus at that time of day, when we are engaged in our daily affairs and business.

“Yitzchak went out to speak in the field”

“Rivka fell off from on the camel”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] 25:22-23

[2] Ibid, v. 27

[3] 24:63-64

[4] Bereishis Rabbah 60:14

[5] Berachos 27b

[6] Tehillim 116

[7] A camel chews its cud but does not have split hooves

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