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 or the energy involved in these stepped up prayers is for the three teenage boys kidnapped by Arab terrorists last week from a hitching post in Gush Etzion.
As each day passes and those prayers including the large gathering of communal recitation of Psalms seem to go unanswered we are left will a feeling of being emotionally bereft as well as frustrated. We are nevertheless assured that though there may be a providential silence, those tefilot are not for naught and are not unheard.
Probably one of the most poignant prayers that we recite on a daily basis is the part of the davening in the Shemonah Esrei that is a prayer that asks 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 praying to G-d asking Him to please be so kind and hear our prayers as a preliminary matter prior to our getting to the heart of the matter or whatever is on our mind.
So to that end we have to at least hope that if nothing else that our prayer about our prayers being heard is penetrating the complex maze that the heavens might after all be.
We know from our studies that prayer is amongst other things both an avocation or even, if you will, a hobby of the Jewish people.
We live under a rubric of a Divine providence on both a communal and individual level. And interestingly this relationship between us and the Divine is not something whose outcome is some hodgepodge of connections like those multi colored 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.
We know as recorded in sefer Shemos that as the Jewish nation had exited Egypt during the great Exodus that they—that is, we—were trapped on the seashore with an approaching Egyptian military force with no place to go. We were trapped like rats. 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 is taking you 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.
It is on the unfolding of these events that Rashi explains that the tefila 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 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, Yitzchok and Yaakov.” He then goes on to cite and reference that Avraham established the morning prayer, Yitzchok 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 instanced like when Yitzchok prayed for children for him and Rivka or when Yaakov davened that he be saved from Esav.
But no, Rashi is insisting that Jews pray the way they do because that is what we do—we are daveners. We pray to Hashem as an expression of confidence in the unique relationship that we have. 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 tefilos without any discernable or seemingly favorable response? Perhaps it is important for us too look at these prayer get togethers that offer so much strength and encouragement to those intimately involved from another vantage point. Some commentators say that tefilo is not a mechanism by which we can change things though that too under some circumstances is possible. Rather, reciting tehilim and and davening for these boys the way we do these last few days is an expression of faith that it is only G-d Almighty who we can rely on to bring these events to a happy and good conclusion.
We cannot depend on the US or the UN, on the European Union or anyone else. It is through a heavenly decree that these events unfolded and it is only through His 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 that 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 is that in the aftermath of this attack the national 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 and huddle together. May our boys be safe and shortly come home and celebrate the everyday miracles that are Israel. And let’s hope that we will have finally learned a lesson about being one and together in good times too.