Who Is Your Praying Partner?

Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Reb Mimi Feigelson

Reb Mimi Feigelson, is the Mashpiah Ruchanit (Spiritual Mentor) and Lecturer of Rabbinic Literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. (WWW.ZIEGLERTORAH.ORG)
She is an Orthodox - Israeli Rabbi and an international Chassidut teacher and story teller. She was the Associate Director of Yakar, Jerusalem and Director of its Women's Beit Ha'midrash.
In 2010 Reb Mimi was recognized by The Forward as one of the fifty most influential female Rabbis in the USA, and in 2011 was accepted to the Board of Rabbi's of Southern California as an independent Orthodox rabbi. Currently Reb Mimi has embarked on pursuing a Doctorate at HUC-JIR, titled: "On the Cusp of Life: From Scared to Sacred". It is an exploration of redefining funerals and cemeteries.

posted on November 2, 2013
Torah Reading
Haftarah Reading

It is a singular occurrence to find a husband and wife pray together in the Torah the way we find Yitzchak and Rivka praying together in our Torah portion:

"Isaac entreated (va'ye'e'tar) with the Lord on behalf / in the presence (NO'CHACH) of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived" (Breishit/Genesis 25, 21).

When opening a Mikra'ote Gedolot edition of the chumash there is not a commentator on the page that does not pay homage to this verse. Some will take up the uniqueness of the word va'ye'e'tar in an attempt to understand the nature of Yitzchack's prayer, and how is this different than va'yit'palel, (and he prayed) for example? For many it will be the tenacity of his prayer, for others it reflects a quality - a prayer that turns over heaven and earth as the pitchfork (eter) turns over land. Regardless of the etymology of the word there seems to be consensus that Yitzchak is demanding of God something that by nature is not a given.

Alongside va'ye'e'tar there is another word that beckons interpretation - the word NO'CHACH. For the Midrash (Breishit Rabba 63,5) this is a staging insight - Yitzchak is standing in one corner of the room and praying and Rivka is standing in the opposite/no'chach corner and praying. But the reader who hears how similar words echo each other in different parts of the Tanach will also hear the verse in Eicha/Lamentations 2, 19: "Pour out your heart like water in the face of God (NO'CHACH pnei Hashem)." There is a unique quality of beseeching that happens in the presence of / in the face of / on behalf of, when you pray NO'CHACH another person or God.

For Reb Levi Yitzchack of Berdichev (1740-1809) the word NO'CHACH reveals the content of Yitzchack's prayer. You may ask, "does the verse itself not tell us what he prayed for? Is it not clear that he prayed that Rivka conceives, which indeed is the latter part of the verse?" Reb Levi Yitzchack offers us a lesson that is not about the miraculous power of prayer but rather about the intent and content of prayer.

Walking hand in hand with earlier commentators it seems that both Yitzchack and Rivka were barren, not only Rivka, as many have perceived. Yitzchak and Rivka represent here opposite mystical-symbolic entities - male/female, active/passive, bestower/recipient. One has no existence without the other and they are interdependent in manifesting in the world. Each one beckons the other into existence.

It is with this reading that Reb Levi Yitzchack teaches us that what our patriarch Yitzchak is inheriting us with is the knowledge of self actualization as a necessity that enables inter-dependent manifestation. Yitzchack understands that if he wants to manifest in the world then his life partner has to be able to manifest in her totality as well - she has to be NO'CHACH him - Rivka has to be a complete and whole counter-partner.

Rivka's self actualization is represented in the paradigm of parenting, of birthing a child. Yitzchack understands this and therefore we are told in the latter part of the verse that indeed Rivka was granted a child. But I believe that there is space to expand our understanding of this teaching to the individual uniqueness that we all seek to manifest in the world.

Whether dealing with life partners, or work partners or dance partners - do we have the eyes and heart to stand in the presence of God, to entreat God on their behalf? Do we understand that beyond a utilitarian perspective it is actually enabling the other to manifest in their greatness that we too will be liberated to manifest in our greatness?

The verse in Eicha/Lamentations would seem to lead us down a similar path, a path that the mystics have been walking down for centuries. Here the understanding that is begging interpretation is that human beings and God have to be NO'CHACH each other. The element of inter-dependence demands of us to pray that the Almighty manifest in His/Her greatness enabling us as well to manifest in the world in our greatness. This is quality of pouring out one's heart NO'CHACH the face of God that Yirmiyahu ascribes us in Eicha/Lamentations.

The Talmud teaches that alongside every blade of grass there is an angel that urges it: "grow, grow". Can we not read this as the Talmud's way of sharing how it is that the Master of World prays for us as we stand, as did so Yitzchack and Rivka, NO'CHACH each other?

May we be blessed in our life to stand in prayer NO'CHACH those who honor our greatness, and to stand in the presence of those that we, similarly, honor their greatness!

Shabbat Shalom.