By Larry Gordon
For those of us who regularly pray three times a day, there is an extra intensity that has been inserted into our efforts over these last few days. The exertion involved in these stepped-up prayers is for the three teenage boys kidnapped by Arab terrorists last week from a hitchhiking post in Gush Etzion.
As each day passes and those prayers, including the communal recitation of Psalms, seem to go unanswered, we are left feeling emotionally bereft as well as frustrated. We are nevertheless assured that though there may be a providential silence, those tefillos are not for naught and are certainly not unheard.
Probably one of the most poignant prayers that we recite on a daily basis is the part of the Shemoneh Esreih in which we ask Hashem to hear our prayers. So, as you can see, this matter of praying, or davening, is quite intricate, to the point that our sages and the authors of our prayers saw fit to insert a paragraph that has us asking G‑d, as a preliminary matter, to please be so kind as to hear our prayers, before getting to the heart of the matter or to whatever is on our mind.
So to that end, we have to at least hope that, if nothing else, our prayer about our prayers being heard is penetrating the complex maze of the heavens.
We know from our studies that prayer is, amongst other things, an avocation—or a hobby, if you will—of the Jewish people. We live under a rubric of Divine providence on both a communal and an individual level. And interestingly, the outcome of this relationship between us and the Divine is not some hodgepodge of connections like those multicolored telephone wires in the basement of an office building that inexplicably result in a dial tone that allows you to speak to people at the other end of the world. Our connection to the above is even more mysterious than that.
It is recorded in Sefer Sh’mos that as the Jewish nation exited Egypt during the great Exodus, they—that is, we—were trapped on the seashore with the Egyptian military force approaching. So what did the Jewish people do? The Torah relates that we cried out to Hashem asking for His help and intervention.
But this scenario needs clarification. The newly minted Jewish nation was already told that G‑d was taking us out of Egypt and bringing us to the Promised Land. We already had that promise in the bag. So what was there to cry out about? And if we didn’t trust Hashem, or doubted His word about His ability to deliver us, then why cry out to Him? We either trust Him or we don’t.
About these events Rashi explains that the tefillah uttered at the time was not about the need or desire to change anything. Am Yisrael believed and believes in Hashem, and if He said we were going to be okay and we were going to enter triumphantly into Israel, then there was no doubt that we were. So if that is the case, then why the anguished cries from the assembled Jewish multitude?
To illustrate this point in that scenario, Rashi explains that the nation cried out and prayed at this time “because we were practicing the profession of our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.” He then goes on to cite that Avraham established the morning prayer, Yitzchak the afternoon prayer, and Yaakov the evening prayer. Had he wanted to demonstrate a desperation or an urgency to the prayer, Rashi could have referenced different instances, like when Yitzchak prayed for children or when Yaakov davened that he be saved from Eisav.
But no, Rashi is insisting that we pray the way we do because that is who Jews are—we are daveners. We pray to Hashem as an expression of confidence in the unique relationship we have with Him. We trust His judgment though it may seem difficult or even inexplicable at times. But that is who we are and what we are made of.
So what of the matter of all these days of tefillos without any discernible or seemingly favorable response? Perhaps it is important for us to look at these prayer get-togethers, which offer so much strength and encouragement to those intimately involved, from another vantage point. Some commentators say that tefillah is not a mechanism by which we can change things, though that too, under some circumstances, is possible. Rather, reciting Tehillim and davening for these boys the way we have done these last few days is an expression of faith that we can rely only on G‑d Al‑mighty to bring these events to a happy conclusion.
We cannot depend on the U.S. or the U.N., on the European Union or anyone else. It is through a heavenly decree that these events unfolded and it is only through Hashem’s doing that the boys can return to their families. In the meantime, we also pray for their safety and that G‑d keep them strong. We hope and pray that in their captivity they feel the love and concern of all the people of Israel who have them in our hearts and on our minds constantly.
And you will hear it again and again, that in the aftermath of this attack, the nation of Israel is united in an almost unprecedented fashion. But when are we going to learn and understand? Why does this unification of a people whose strength and fortitude emerges in a most profound way when we stand together have to wait for tragedy to strike so that we are drawn together? May our boys be safe and shortly come home and celebrate the everyday miracle that is Israel. And let’s hope that we will have finally learned a lesson about being one and together in good times, too. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.