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PARSHAS VAERAMoshe spoke before Hashem… "Behold, Bnei Yisrael have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me? And I have sealed lips!" (6:12)
The lives of some people are situated between the proverbial "rock and a hard place." They want so much to do good, to change their miserable lifestyles, which they know are inappropriate and heading nowhere. Yet, when "push comes to shove," they are powerless to make a commitment due to the acquired habits endemic to their lifestyles. This is not novel. Moshe Rabbeinu confronted a similar challenge upon speaking to Klal Yisrael about the upcoming redemption from Egypt.
When Moshe received a "cool" reception from the Jewish slaves to his good news, he asked Hashem, "How can I expect Pharaoh to listen to me in light of my speech impediment?" Chazal tell us that this is one of the ten kal v'chomer, a fortiori, arguments in the Torah. Moshe was reasoning from a minor to a major principle. An example of such reasoning is: if a weak man can knock down a door, surely a strong man can do the same. The commentators point out that Moshe's argument was flawed, as the reasoning for the lack of enthusiasm which they evidenced were their kotzer ruach, shortness of temper, and their avodah kashah, the fatigue of their hard labor. This was not likely to be the same in Pharaoh's case.
In response to this question, Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, cites the Baalei Tosfos, who explain Moshe's logic. Regardless of Klal Yisrael's difficulty -from both the physical and emotional demands-- with their shortness of temper, they should have embraced the opportunity to leave the country. If a man is incarcerated, he would surely be ecstatic about the notion of freedom. No matter how depressed he is, his mind is occupied day and night with the thought of leaving prison. Klal Yisrael's unresponsiveness to Moshe was not typical of the average slave. If they paid no attention to Moshe, Pharaoh would certainly not listen, especially given that Moshe had come to free the slaves.
Apparently the desire to leave prison should supersede the people's state of nervous prostration and physical exhaustion. If Klal Yisrael, whose desire to leave was so strong, still listened to Moshe dispassionately, what could be expected of Pharaoh? He surely did not want the Jewish slaves to leave Egypt. Moshe's arguments seem to be within reason. If so, why did the people refuse to listen to him? Rav Bergman cites the Mechilta, which gives us a totally new perspective on their "short temper" and "hard labor" that affected their desire to listen to Moshe.
The Mechilta begins by stating that, regardless of the difficulty of the labor, when a person hears good news, his attitude quickly changes. He wants to listen, which did not occur when Moshe spoke to the Jews. Where was their joy in the knowledge that this miserable bondage was finally coming to an end? Chazal explain that it had nothing to do with the actual labor to which the Egyptians subjected them. Rather, it was hard for them to say good-by to their idols. Yes, the Jews were taken in by the Egyptian culture of idol worship. It had become a way of life for them. True, they did not want to be slaves to Pharaoh, but they were not yet prepared to leave Egypt. It was the classic syndrome to which many of our co-religionists throughout history have succumbed. We want to be recognized as members of our host country; we want to live like them and be like them, but we do not want to be persecuted as outsiders, as Jews. Live with goyim, be like goyim, and expect the goyim to recognize us as goyim. It just does not work, because we are not goyim. We are Jews, and when a Jew acts like a goy, he pays for it.
Hashem's command to the Jews was to desist from idolatry, in order to prepare to leave Egypt. They wanted to leave Egypt, but they did not want to abandon their idolatry. It meant too much to them - even more than leaving Egypt. Chazal are laying bare for us the depths of human psychology. Ostensibly, the Jews wanted desperately to be told the news of the redemption, but subconsciously they were opposed to hearing anything that meant giving up their relationship with their idols. Regrettably, this latter impulse won out, and they refused to hear what Moshe had to say. It was this inner struggle between the desire to leave the misery of Egypt and the gravitational pull to idolatry that caused their "shortened breath" and their "hard labor." The word avodah, labor, refers specifically to avodah zarah, idolatry.
This is the battle of life - one which often puts us between "a rock and a hard place." We want to live a life of the spirit, a life devoted to serving Hashem, a life of observance, a life of joy, but we are unwilling to give up the idolatry. We want to gain freedom, but we are loathe to leave our enslavement to the acquired habits of materialism. Our ears are deafened to Hashem's message, because it means giving up what has become our comfort zone of life, our lifestyle of decadence. Moshe's kal v'chomer made sense. The Jewish people had much to gain from freedom. Yet, they turned a deaf ear to Moshe's message. Their deep-rooted interest in maintaining their Egyptian lifestyle outweighed even their desperate longing for freedom. Now, if they-- who had so much to gain-- would not listen to Moshe, Pharaoh would be even less willing to listen. After all, he wanted to maintain his slaves.
They are the ones who spoke to Pharaoh…This is Moshe and Aharon. (6:27)
Rashi explains the meaning of this pasuk: "They are the ones who were commanded, and they are the ones who fulfilled all that they were commanded. They remained steadfast and righteous in their mission from beginning to end." What Rashi is telling us is that Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen remained committed to carrying out their mission, so that they did not deviate in any way from their elevated level of piety and virtue. One would expect nothing less from these two paragons of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. After all, Moshe was the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael, and Aharon was the Kohen Gadol, High Priest. This level of dedication was an integral part of their ongoing devotion to Hashem and their service to Him.
In an alternative approach, Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, distinguishes between fulfilling a mortal's command and carrying out Divine commandments. Essentially, they are two different types of fulfillments, involving disparate goals and objectives. For instance, in the human realm, a general leads an army, and his soldiers aggressively adhere to his commands. Their goal, however, is to win the war. They believe that the general's strategy can accomplish this goal. Hashem also issues commands, but His directives are not focused on the outcome or the achievement, because He does not need us for that. Hashem can implement His goals without human intervention. Thus, man's motivation and focus in mitzvah performance is one point: Hashem has so commanded. We act to carry out the ratzon Hashem, will of G-d, not due to the achievement involved.
One can attain such a level of performance only with humility. One who "holds of himself" is concerned primarily with the outcome, the result, and how it will bear on his list of personal accomplishments. He is concerned with himself and thus every achievement adds to his personal portfolio. How can such a person ignore his own intentions and serve Hashem purely for His sake, to carry out His will, because He has so commanded?
When Moshe and Aharon fulfilled Hashem's command, they did so purely because Hashem had so commanded-- and not with any other ulterior motives. They did this throughout the entire command from beginning to end. It was because of their outstanding humility and overwhelming joy in carrying out Hashem's command that they merited to be the vehicles for the redemption from Egypt.
Moshe cried out to Hashem concerning the frogs. (8:8)
The Talmud Berachos 31A states that it is forbidden to raise one's voice in prayer. This is derived from Chanah's prayer in Shmuel 1:13, where it is written, "Her voice was not heard." Furthermore, the Talmud says that one who raises his voice in prayer indicates that his level of emunah, faith in the Almighty, is slight. It is as if he were implying that the Almighty hears only if one speaks loudly, a statement which is inconceivable. The Talmud goes so far as to say that one who raises his voice is included among the false prophets. This is because he is presenting Hashem as some form of mortal that can only hear from afar when one shouts, an inference which is ludicrous. If so, why did Moshe Rabbeinu find it necessary to "cry out" to Hashem? Surely, his prayer would have been just as efficacious had he respectfully uttered his words of prayer in a relaxed, low voice.
We find other instances of prayer when the word tzaakah, crying out, is used. When Klal Yisrael stood at the banks of the Red Sea, closed in between water and the Egyptians, they "cried out to Hashem" (Shemos 14:10). When Miriam was stricken with tzaraas, leprosy, "Moshe cried out to Hashem, saying, "Please, Hashem, heal her now" (Bamidbar 12:13). The list goes on with pesukim in Navi and Tehillim in which "crying out" constituted a legitimate form of prayer. How does this coincide with the words of Chazal?
A number of commentators address this question, the first of whom is the Mabit. In his Bais Elokim, he explains that the daily tefillos which we recite under all conditions should be said in a quiet, relaxed tone. Those prayers, however, which one recites during an eis tzarah, troublesome time, period of misery, cannot really be spoken with a calm demeanor. When one hurts, he cries! By raising his voice, he indicates the reality that he is going through a difficult time and that the One Who can alleviate his pain is Hashem. These emotions are evinced through his crying out in prayer.
In his sefer on Meseches Brachos, Chashukei Chemed, Horav Yitzchok Zilberstein, Shlita, cites his brother-in-law, Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, who distinguishes between the ten loshonos, terms, describing the various forms of prayer. Among them is the term zeakah, which means raising one's voice in prayer. This does not mean that he screams, but rather that he raises his voice from the deepest recesses of his heart, evoking his inner emotions. His voice remains the same; it is the emotions and inner yearnings that are elevated.
Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, relates that in a talk to his students, the Pnei Menachem, previous Gerrer Rebbe, zl cited the commentary of the Sfas Emes, concerning the naarah ha'meorasah, betrothed girl, who had relations with a man. The girl receives capital punishment because "she did not cry out," indicating that this was not a forced relationship, but consensual. The Sfas Emes derives from here that one who does not scream, even though later the situation turned into an oneis, accident, whereby the woman was under pressure, is considered negligent and complicit. When it hurts, one screams. When the opportunity to scream presents itself and one remains silent, he is a poshea, lax and derelict, and considered responsible for what has occurred. It was preventable, and his attitude of disregard played a role in his downfall. The Rebbe concluded with the words: "If one can accomplish with screams and he does not, it is not considered an accident." He then raised his voice and said, "Woe that people do not appreciate fully the incredible power of crying out to Hashem from the depths of the heart."
In another context, the word zeakah is defined as mobilizing, or calling up personnel, as in Shoftim 4:10, Vayazeik Barak es Zevullun, "Barak mustered /mobilized Zevullun." Zeakah, concerning prayer, is then defined as the realization that the situation is dire and one must mobilize and do everything within his power to ask Hashem for mercy. While the focus of this thesis has been emphasizing the significance of added emotion, prayer with greater intensity, resonant and pulsating expression of one's pleas, this is not necessarily the only way to be heard, as illustrated by the following story.
A young Torah scholar in a small community in Eretz Yisrael became gravely ill. It reached the point that he was at death's door. A prayer-gathering was convened during which the assemblage poured out their hearts to the Almighty. Afterwards, the group discussed ways to help their stricken friend. One of the suggestions that was presented and agreed upon was to have everyone obligate himself to come to davening on time, not to leave until after davening had been concluded, and not to speak during davening. Sounds like a seemingly benign commitment. It worked. From that day on, davening changed. Everyone was there when Birchos HaShachar were recited. The last Kaddish was no longer "orphaned" with barely a minyan remaining to answer amen. The decorum in shul was enhanced. It looked like a shul. Davening became a serious pursuit. Slowly, there were subtle spiritual changes in the lives of all of the participants. The most significant result of this change was the return to complete health of the choleh, sick scholar.
The rabbanim acquainted with this phenomenal experience explained its success in the following manner. One may daven and daven, stretching out his davening as long as he wants, but if he does not demonstrate by his actions that he values and appreciates davening, his prayers do not garner their complete effectiveness. Who cares how long he stretches out his Shemoneh Esrai, as long as he comes to davening late and leaves early? He shows how much he really values the davening. When the entire kehillah, community, joined together to demonstrate the significance of davening in their lives, it achieved the greatest efficacy.
The hail struck in the entire land of Egypt ….Moshe went out from Pharaoh…and he stretched his hands to Hashem; the thunder and hail ceased and rain did not reach the earth. (9:25, 33)
Moshe Rabbeinu prayed to Hashem, and the hail-- with its accompanying thunder and rain-- ceased. When Moshe prayed the plague came to a sudden stop to the point that the hail falling to earth was suspended in mid-air. In the Midrash, Chazal tell us that the hail stones remained suspended in the air for quite some time. During the days of Yehoshua, when he was battling the Emorites, the hail came crashing down from heaven. The remainder of the hail is to fall during the war of Gog and Magog prior to the advent of Moshiach. Rabbeinu Bachya adds that the thunder also came into use during the days of Elisha against the kingdom of Aram.
This is all very impressive, but was it necessary? Human beings never know what tomorrow will bring, so they save. During times of plenty, they put away for a rainy day, for a time when they might not have the resources available to achieve their goals. Hashem, the Creator of all things, does not have this "problem." He creates anew whatever He wants. Why was it necessary for Him to "save" the thunder, to suspend the hail in mid-air, to put them away for a later date? Why does He not simply create new thunder and new hail?
Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that Hashem treasured the barad, hail, which He created to plague Egypt. This hail represented the groans, sighs and tears of the Jewish slaves. Every hailstone was filled with Jewish tears. The Jews suffered greatly at the brutal hands of the cruel Egyptians. Men, women and children would raise their voices in pain and sorrow, gazing Heavenward for salvation. "Please, Hashem, put a stop to our misery." Their tears would flow freely as they beseeched Hashem for His mercy. Every groan, every tear meant so much to Hashem. He saved them and used them as the principle substance for the hail and the thunder. The hot tears became the fire within the hail. Is it any wonder that these hailstones and the thunder were so precious to Hashem?
The entire people responded together and said, "Everything that Hashem has spoken we shall do!" (Shemos 19:8) In the Midrash Shir HaShirim, Chazal ask for how long this rapturous declaration of Naaseh V'Nishmah, "We will do and (then) we will listen," lasted for Klal Yisrael? They reply that the reverberation of this sound continued on until the time of Shlomo HaMelech. When he built the Bais HaMikdash and brought in the Aron HaKodesh, with the Kohanim and Leviim participating together, with special singers dressed in their finery and accompanied by trumpeters, cymbalists, drummers, and harpsichordists, all singing together in unison, all of Klal Yisrael participating together in harmony - then the sound of Naaseh V'Nishmah was incorporated in all the pomp and glory! No, it was not a singular event. It would last for generations, due to its sincerity and overwhelming significance.
No prayer is wasted; no tear is ignored; no groan or sigh is overlooked. Hashem saves them all and uses them at an appropriate time and suitable place.
A Jew who was obviously very ill came to the Steipler Rav, zl, and beseeched him for a blessing. The Steipler listened to the man's pleas, his heartrending cry, his broken-hearted lament, as he related the pain, the trauma - both physical and emotional - which he and his family had endured as they weathered crisis after crisis. Finally, the Steipler spoke. "The heartfelt prayer of a choleh, sick person, is heard by Hashem. This is a verity. It is axiomatic. I suggest that you pray for yourself. Pour out your heart to the Almighty. Entreat Him for mercy. He will certainly listen. He always listens. No prayer returns empty-handed. Every prayer accomplishes something. It might achieve the entire request. At times, it might only negotiate a small percentage of the original request. Even if one does not notice an immediate response of some sort, it means nothing, for it might be a month or two in coming - even a year, five years. Sometimes, it may take up to ten years before one sees Hashem's response," the Steipler concluded his words and bid the man good day.
The sick person began to pray with greater fervor, more intense passion and deeper feeling. Exactly ten years after he had visited the Steipler - yes, it took ten years - the man was completely healed from his illness. The answer came. It just took some time.
Tefillah has efficacy. The potency of one's tefillah is determined by its sincerity and the manner in which it is expressed. The following incident took place a few years ago in the study of Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita. My purpose of relating this story is to demonstrate that tefillah works, and that one need not be a gadol hador, preeminent leader of the generation, in order for his prayer to obtain a favorable result.
One day a young kollel fellow, a scholar who studied in one of the distinguished Kollelim, post-graduate fellowship Torah programs, in Bnei Brak, presented himself together with his seven year old son before Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita. "Rebbe," the young man said, "I would like to relate to his honor a moving, incredible story that occurred concerning my son. As his honor can see, my son was diagnosed a short while ago with the dread disease. As part of his treatment, the doctors said that he would have to undergo several rounds of serious chemotherapy. Among the many side effects that he might suffer, losing all of his body hair was a certainty. My son has accepted Hashem's decree of strict justice with great love, far beyond a child of such young years. Yet, despite his incredible emunah, faith, and bitachon, trust, in the Almighty that whatever is decreed for him is all for the good, he became hysterical when he heard he would lose his hair. He told us, 'I do not care about the hair on my head, even if it will look strange and the other children might look at me in a ridiculing manner. I cannot, however, tolerate losing my payos, sidelocks. My payos maintain my appearance as a Jewish child. How can I lose my payos?'"
"My son cried and cried, and he prayed and prayed. He supplicated Hashem with the following words: 'My merciful Father in Heaven. I am confident that everything that You do to me is for the good. No one has greater compassion than You. This is what my parents have taught me. Therefore, I accept unequivocally and with utmost love all that You will send me. I accept everything that is connected with this disease that I have, because I am certain that You will not forsake me. I am willing to lose my hair, even though I will be greatly embarrassed thereby.'
"Suddenly, my son burst out into bitter weeping. As he sobbed, he cried out, 'Hashem, I will give it all up- but not my payos! How can I be without payos? I cannot overlook my payos. They are what make me look like a Jew. Please, Hashem - leave my payos!'
"My son davened like this for over an hour, repeating his entreaty amid bitter wailing. Rebbe - lo and behold - look at my son. His payos have not been touched. The drugs ravaged his body. Every hair is gone - except for his payos. Hashem listened to my son's prayers."
Rav Chaim was so taken by this incident that he immediately summoned all the members of his family who were in the house to come to see the power of innocence, the power of sincerity, the power of prayer from a pure heart.
The key to prayer is sincerity. This means that the supplicant believes that only Hashem can help him. Therefore, he turns his heart to Him, understanding that any other avenue is only part of the process called hishtadlus, endeavor. This is something which we must do, but we may never forget that the result can only be affected by Hashem.
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