How Parents’ Effects our Prayers
Rashi’s comments on Genesis 25:21 where both Isaac and his wife Rebecca prayed for children. Rashi notes the word selected by God’s response, “And He was appeased towards ‘him’.” (God answered Isaac but not Rebecca.) Rashi derives a principle; “There is no comparison between the prayer of the righteous who descend from the righteous (Isaac son of Abraham), and the righteous who descend from the wicked.” (Rebecca’s father was wicked.) Therefore, Isaac, a descendant of another righteous person, received a response from God, but Rebecca did not.
On the surface, this contradicts the principle, “Where penitent people stand, even the wholly righteous cannot stand.” (Yevamos 64a) This latter statement implies that the individual’s own state of perfection is the sole criteria for their status. If one is righteous, their lineage is of no regard. If this is so, Rebecca, being righteous, should have been answered as well. Why is lineage an issue?
To answer this problem, let us read Rashi again carefully: “There is no comparison between the prayer of the righteous descendant of one righteous, and the righteous descendant of one wicked.” Rashi is addressing a specific act: prayer. Let us rephrase the question: “What is it in one’s lineage which determines one’s level of prayer?”
What is prayer? It is the institution of one approaching the Creator as the Source of one’s entire fate. When one recognizes God as real, he cannot help but to beseech God for his needs, and ultimately desire a relationship via prayer, even once his needs are met. God is the only source of man’s fate.
Maimonides, in his code of law, the Mishneh Torah, Chap. VI Laws of Rebelliousness, outlines the laws of honoring parents, “Honoring fathers and mothers is a great positive Mitzvah, so too is fearing fathers and mothers, and they are equated by the Torah to the honor and fear of God,...........In the manner that we are commanded to honor and fear God, so too are we commanded on their (parents’) honor and fear.” Additionally, we find the Ten Commandments are split into two sections: The first five deal with man’s relationship with God, the second deal with man’s relationship with his fellow man. The one problem is that Honoring Parents is included not in the second five, but in the first five dealing with our relationship with God. This appears out of place. How is “Honoring Parents” part of the laws dealing with our relationship with God?
I believe the answer traces back to the design of man’s entrance into the world, and his maturity. Man is not created today, as was Adam, fully grown. Man enters the world as a dependent infant; he grows through various processes, losing and regaining his teeth, acne, reaching adolescence, child rearing, and old age. Why? Is this just accidental? Of course not. This is part of God’s precise design. One stage referring to our topic is childhood, and in particular, dependency on parents.
A child learns from early on, the concept of “authority”. Parents are taller, stronger, and more capable, they punish us, and they nurture us. They are the source of our good and evil. We turn to them for all our fears and desires. In short, God designed mankind in a manner where he must learn the concept of an authority figure. Had man been born complete, and independent, with all the knowledge needed to survive, he would have no need for parents, and he would forfeit the lesson of authority. But it is vital that this lesson be learned, as it is essential for the recognition of one other need: recognition of God. It is only through our state as feeble and dependent infants, that the role of authority may be successfully permeated into our being. We require the learning of some semblance of authority from youth, to be projected ultimately onto God. Without learning what authority is from youth, we cannot begin our approach to God.
“Honor your father and your mother...equated by the Torah to the honor and fear of God.” This is the lesson of Maimonides. The equation is that fear and honor of God is modeled after fear and honor of our parents. For this reason, the command to fear and honor parents is rightfully placed in the section dealing with our approach to God, not our fellowman.
Now we understand why Rebecca was not answered in this instance; her role model was not complete. In fact, her father Lavan was wicked. Rashi intimates that Rebecca suffered from a marred authority figure, and this had some effect on her prayer. God did not answer her. But if she had been the only one praying, we do not know what God’s response would be. She might have been answered. Perhaps, God’s lack of a response to Rebecca, according to Rashi, teaches that only in this scenario Isaac’s correct role model, from whom he built upon his fear and love of God, entitled him alone to merit a response. But be mindful that Rebecca still had the child, regardless of her father’s corruptions. Rebecca possessed no fault.
In prayer, a proper parent makes a great difference, as prayer is where one is in dialogue with God - the true Authority. (My friend asked, “But did not God grant children to Abraham, whose father was wicked?” One possible answer is that God bestowed children on him as God’s own plan.)
This is not the case with the other statement, “Where penitent people stand, even the wholly righteous cannot stand.” This refers to one’s ability to exercise his free will and perfect himself. It is not discussing one’s relationship to God as an authority. There is no contradiction.
Our fear and honor of God is very much based on our initial relationship with our parents. We see how essential our proper actions are, not only for ourselves, but also for the perfection of our children, and their relationship with God. Let this concern be prominent in our eyes as we raise our children to fear, and ultimately love God.