We are all feeling an enormous sense of tragedy following the events of the week. Our hearts and prayers are still focused on those families. However, like the men who returned to pray the next morning in that very same synagogue, we must move forward. In the midst of the sadness, I am also in the middle of wedding season and this week I will be attending the wedding of the daughter of a close friend.
There is a wonderful custom which is done by many couples under the chuppah (wedding canopy), where the bride and groom will have a list of friends or relatives for whom they will say special prayers. The prayers can be for anything: health, finding a mate, financial success, or any other wish. The bride and groom are considered to be special emissaries with a special link to God on this day.
But there is another lesson of this custom: even during our most exciting moments, we need to pray for others. Even during the extreme joy of a wedding, we are reminded to think of others and not just ourselves.
A similar idea is found in this week’s parsha. We read about Isaac and Rebecca’s longing for children. The verse in Genesis states: “Isaac prayed opposite his wife, because she was barren.” Rashi comments that the Yitzchak prayed together with Rebecca for children, each standing in a different spot in the tent. Rabbi Zvi Shiloni offers a beautiful thought about this Rashi. He explains that Isaac prayed before Rebecca to offer her reassurance. He writes that “Rivka was able to see Yitzchak praying. He did not want her to feel that he did not share her pain- on the contrary, he felt it strongly and he prayed for both of them.” (YU Torah Online)
The story of Avraham and Sarah stands in contrast to our parsha. Sarah was barren and was the one to suggest that the family be built through her handmaiden Hagar. However, after Yishmael is born Sarah becomes angry at Avraham. Here Rashi says that the reason why she was angry was because Avraham did not pray on behalf of both of them. He prayed to have a child, but did not perhaps include Sarah, as is suggested, in the presence of his prayers.
I think that the message of Yitzchak praying on behalf of and together with Rebecca is the same as the message of the tefillot of the bride and groom. Our prayers of course consider our own needs. But we also need to recognize our responsibility toward one another, and that is why the bride and groom on their greatest day of joy and celebration pray for others. Our prayers will never be as meaningful unless we can feel the pain and joy of others; and we also need to let others know we are praying for them. Like Yitzchak, we also need others to see and know that we are praying for them.
We have had a week of tragic events. They have shaken our core, and our very safety in Israel and around the world is being challenged. Our response must be that of Yitzchak- to pray on behalf of all our friends, relatives, and community in Israel. We need to pray for them, and let them know that we are praying with them and for them.
May God bring peace and comfort to those who have lost their family members and a speedy recovery and refuah shelaima to those who are injured.