Biblical word studies: Vayeetar = he entreated

Torah Portion of Toldot  Genesis 25:19-28:9: It begins with a prayer and ends with the story of Isaac's blessings to his children.

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Prayer
צילום: PR

The Torah portion of Toldot begins with prayer and ends with a conflict around blessings. These two forms of communication are strikingly different.

On the most simple of levels, blessings are conferred by an individual on another as a method of releasing inner spiritual truths ensconced within that individual. It draws out what lies buried within. Prayers on the other hand are "given over" by individuals to G-d.

How do they “work”?

Does G-d “need” our prayers and what effect do they have on Him, if any?

In the world we live in, we pray for things to happen and for others not to. Yet those prayers do not always achieve what we set out for them to do. Yet they always achieve what Hashem intended for them to do.

Prayer does not change G-d’s mind, it changes us.

We read that King Hezekiah is told of the Divine decree declaring that he would die. "In those days Hezekiah became critically ill, when Isaiah the son of Amoz the prophet came to him, and said to him, "So has Hashem said, 'Give orders to your household, for you are going to die and you shall not live.." ( 2 Kings 20:1)


He turns to the wall in prayer;  "And he turned his face toward the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying,"Please, O Hashem, remember now, how I walked before You truly and wholeheartedly, and I did what is good in Your eyes." And Hezekiah wept profusely.( ibid 2-3


 Hashem then tells Isaiah the following just as Isaiah was leaving the inner court of the King;

"Return and say to Hezekiah the ruler of My people, 'So has Hashem G-d of your father David said, "I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold I shall heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of Hashem. And I will add fifteen years to your life and I will save you from the hand of the king of Assyria, I will save you and this city, and I will protect this city for My sake and for the sake of My servant David.' ""(ibid5-6).

What did Hezekiah say that G-d was not already aware of and that brought about the seeming change?

To fully understand the process of prayer we can turn to this week's Torah portion of Toldot ;

“And Isaac prayed (vaYeatar Yitzchak)to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer( VaYeater lo Hashem), and Rebecca his wife conceived.( Genesis 25:21.)

Throughout Tanach the word VaYeatar is a word describing prayer.

Thereupon, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said,


 "Entreat ( HaAtiru) Hashem that He remove the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let out the people so that they may sacrifice to Hashem."(Exodus 8:4)

Also in the following;

He entreats G-d (YeAtar) and placates Him, and he sees His countenance in prayer, and He requites man [according to] his righteousness.( Job 33:27)

Yet we see that there is more to the word than simply praying because we see that  it is a process that moves in two directions.

Both the words and “Isaac prayed ( vaYeatar Yitzchak) ” and the words Hashem accepted his prayer ( VaYeater lo Hashem) are rooted in the same word. Why would prayer and the acceptance of prayer use the same word formation?

We see this usage elsewhere in the Biblical text as well.

And David built there an altar to Hashem, and he offered up burnt-offerings and peace offerings. And Hashem was entreated( VaYeater)  for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.( Samuel II 24:25)

Our sages connect the word “VaYeatar” to the word VaYachtor ( to dig through) .That is to say that it is a type of prayer that creates a tunnel. The Netivot Hashalom explains that there are times that a wall of steel exits between us and G-d and our prayers seem orphaned. In such times there is a necessity to dig deeper and create a channel around and under the wall. G-d’s answering response comes through the same vessel.

The evil king Manasseh turns back to G-d at the end of his life and we read “And he prayed unto Him; and He was entreated ( vayeater) of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Hashem was G-d.” (II Chronicles33:13). G-d created a “tunnel” (a machteret) that circumvented the attribute of Justice to allow the prayers of this truly repentant king  to be heard and to be answered. So great is the power of a penitent heart. (tractate Sanhedrin 103a)

When prayer becomes an arduous, intense, and difficult digging through the obstacles strewn throughout our souls and psyches , we then witness that the  effort is mirrored by G-d;

 "And Isaac prayed (vaYeatar Yitzchak)to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer( VaYeater lo Hashem), and Rebecca his wife conceived.( Genesis 25:21.)

There is another level as well

Our Sages also point to the fact that the Hebrew word for plead/ pray (VaYeatar) is also related to the word for pitchfork " Rabbi Elazar writes that the prayers of the righteous  is like the pitchfork that flips the hay over from one side to the other ( Sukka 14a).  Just as a pitchfork turns the sheaves of grain from one position to another, so does sincere prayer change direction of G-d’s plan .

Hashem has a plan and destiny for all of His creations. That plan can move through the attribute of Divine Justice or it could transverse through the attribute of Compassion. How that plan will unfold is a function of what type of vessel we have become. He will either act with the Left Hand of Justice or with the embracing right Hand of Compassion.” His left hand would be under my head, and his right hand would embrace me.”( Song of Songs 8:3) .

In the end it is all is a function of what type of vessel we have become . The word “Veyatar”  reminds us of how all forms of prayer changes us. We become changed, with Hashem’s help,  into a vessel where Hashem’s plan for us can flow with and through Hessed/ Compassion as opposed to the opposite.

Lerefuat Kol HaPtzuim ve Hacholim
Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther