Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l
Prayer is an enigma. Usually when we serve Hashem, we act as loyal servants without expectation of remuneration (although every good deed is rewarded, this is not the ideal motive; see Avos 1:3). But with prayer, the whole point is to expect to be answered (Sefer HaChinuch 433). "He will do the will of those who fear Him; He will hear their cry, and He will save them (Tehillim 145:19)."
Understandably, when one's tefillos remain unfulfilled, one tends to doubt. "Is Someone up there really listening?" Of course no one ever promised us that the answer to our prayers would be "yes". Still, though, perhaps we can cull some guidance from our parsha to facilitate the delivery of our prayers, and to increase our chances for a positive response.
"And Yitzchak went out to 'speak' in the field toward evening...(Breishis 24:63)" -- From here we learn that Yitzchak established the Mincha prayer (Brachos 26b).
For what did Yitzchak daven? He must have had good reason at this particular time to institute a new prayer! The Kli Yakar presumes that he most probably davened for a proper shidduch. As our sages reveal: "For this let every pious person pray to You in a time of need (Tehillim 32:6) -- Says Rabi Chanina, this refers to [praying for] a wife, as it is written: One who has found a wife has found good (Mishlei 18:22) (Brachos 8a)." (My spouse's favorite quote!)
As such, we are stunned by an incredulous coincidence. Extraordinarily, Yitzchak's prayer was answered immediately! "And Yitzchak went out to 'speak' in the field toward evening, and he looked up and saw, behold, camels were approaching..." -- the very camels that were delivering his kalla, Rivka! Why was Yitzchak's prayer so instantly and meticulously acknowledged, a phenomenon we find only very rarely throughout history?
The solution calls for us to return to last week's parsha. "And Avraham prayed to G-d, And G-d healed Avimelech and his wife, and his maid-servants, and they gave birth. For Hashem had sealed every womb of the household of Avimelech because of the matter of Sarah... (20:17)." Directly following we are told: "And Hashem remembered Sarah...and she gave birth... (21:1)." Rashi elucidates that these two events are juxtaposed "to teach you that when someone prays for a friend, and he is in need of the same thing, he is answered first."
What could possibly be the reasoning? If I daven for him, why should I receive what I need? If both my friend and I are suffering from strep throat and I supply him with antibiotics, does my infection miraculously disappear?
One explanation may be, when a person suffers from a serious need, there is a natural tendency to feel selfish. "Why should I worry about someone else's problem when I have that very same need?"
But if the person is capable of extricating himself from of the mire of self-centeredness, if he can subdue his ego and intensify his concern for the needs of another, so much so that he actually davens for the other person with true, heartfelt kavanna, this demonstrates genuine, Jewish self-sacrifice. The Midda K'negged Midda dividend: Hashem actually fulfills his own need first.
If this holds true for someone who merely davens for another, how much more should it be true of someone who physically assuages his friend's need, oblivious of his own pain.
Immediately prior to Yitzchak's tefilla, the Torah relates that he had just returned from a place called "Be'er Lachay Ro'i" (24:62). Rashi explains that he had traveled there after his mother's passing, to restore Hagar to his father Avraham.
Let us please appreciate the overwhelming hurdles Yitzchak had to overcome. Certainly Yitzchak missed his mother. To return from the Akeida only to find her gone must have been a tremendous blow. Yet, on the other hand, his father was now a widower, in need of a wife. Feelings of bereavement do not absolve a person from fulfilling his obligations to the living. Thus, in an act of utter selflessness, Yitzchak heroically overcame his love and longing for his departed mother, to bestow the greatest chessed upon his father.
But there is still more. Yitzchak was now forty years old and had yet to find a wife. He was unquestionably concerned about fulfilling this great mitzva, particularly as he was foreordained to bring forth the future Jewish Nation. Yitzchak had a critical necessity to fulfill; how could he possibly suppress his own feelings and focus on those of his father?
Nevertheless, Yitzchak himself (not a messenger) went to a great effort to bring back Hagar to satisfy his father's need first. To Yitzchak's credit, not only did he daven -- he acted. Thus it is no wonder that immediately following his tefilla for his own shidduch we read, "And he lifted his eyes, and he saw camels coming..." He took three steps back at the end of his Sh'mone Esrei, and lo and behold, there she was, his bashert, riding on a camel.
Let us not think that these lofty ideas worked only for the Avos. A distraught, childless woman, approached a rabbi for a blessing. The rabbi tried to excuse himself. "For a blessing, you should go to a Tzaddik," he told her. She didn't relent. "Please, rebbe, give me a bracha!" Finally the rabbi said, "Look, I'm no Tzaddik. My own daughter has been married for years, and has not yet merited to have children. But Chazal teach us that when one person prays for another, she herself is answered first. Let's make a deal. I'll daven for you, and you daven for my daughter. Maybe Hashem will hear our supplications."
Many months passed. The rabbi was extremely busy due to a family simcha; his daughter had finally given birth to a beautiful baby. Several days later, the rabbi received a phone call from the same woman. She had wanted to invite him to a bris. Miraculously, she had given birth on the very same day!
How often we wonder why our tefillos have not yet been fulfilled? "Hey, I'm a nice guy," we say. "I davened with at least fifty percent kavanna! Why does Hashem hesitate to grant my request? For how long must I wait for my bashert?" There are many answers to these questions, but maybe, just maybe, b'siyata d'shmaya, this principle can help us achieve our quest.
May all our tefillos be answered l'tova, bimheira b'yameinu!!