This week’s parasha starts with the description of Yitzchak and Rivkah’s marriage:
Rashi tells us how wonderful Rivkah was:
And the Maharal expands on this:
Rabbi Shulman last week noted that this sets up the parallel with Abraham, who also had to leave three aspects of his old life:
And last week we saw another side to Rivkah’s צדקות:
And it’s worth noting that while Rashi emphasizes the miraculous aspects of Rivkah’s coming into the household of בית אברהם, the original midrash has more of what Rivkah herself did:
That’s just great. But then Rashi looks at the next pasuk and is bothered by the term לנכח אשתו:
But once we say that both of them davened, why ויעתר לו?
This is from the gemara:
This is very disturbing. We just talked about how wonderful Rivkah was, how much she had to overcome, and still ה׳ won’t listen to her because of her ancestry? We would have thought that leaving a house of עבודה זרה and צרות עין would count for something:
And elsewhere the gemara rejects the idea that ה׳ treats the צדיק בן צדיק differently from the צדיק בן רשע:
Now, deciding who ה׳ should listen to is way above my pay grade, but the question bothers many contemporary commentators. Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky says we are misreading the terms תפלת צדיק בן צדיק and תפלת צדיק בן רשע. תפלת means “the prayers of” but it means “the prayers about” not “the prayers by”:
That’s nice, but I do not think that is what the gemara or Rashi intended.
Rabbi Jay Kelman (Torah in Motion) says that there was an inherent difference between Yitzchak and Rivkah:
Now that works. Both of them had sacrificed, but Yitzchak was the more spiritual, more attuned to what “prayer” really means. It’s a good answer to the question of ויעתר לו, but it’s not Rashi’s answer.
Most answer that צדיק בן צדיק doesn’t mean that we are better for being FFB rather than BT; it’s that ה׳ still rewards our ancestors (who do deserve שכר) by listening to our prayers. That is called זכות אבות:
And we invoke this every day in our own תפילות: וְזוכֵר חַסְדֵּי אָבות וּמֵבִיא גואֵל לִבְנֵי בְנֵיהֶם.
This is a little hard to morally justify. How can we “inherit” our parents' זכויות?
The gemara in fact has a problem with this:
The Bais HaLevi (the original Yosef Dov Soloveitchik) addresses this:
And this is how one of the kollel אברכים in the hesder yeshiva in Maale Adumim put it:
זכות אבות is real, but it isn’t really an inheritance. It’s a trust fund, that we have to earn in order have access to it. That’s why the parasha starts with emphasizing ואלה תולדת יצחק בן אברהם; אברהם הוליד את יצחק. It was only because יצחק was the son of אברהם, because he continued in his father’s mission, that ויעתר לו ה׳.