Beshalach: From the Depths, From the Heights

How prominent a place does our faith occupy in our lives and mindset? To what extent do we really see G-d as the defining factor in our fate and future?

When the Jewish people engaged in their war against Amalek, Yehoshua led the battle in the valley while Moshe stood atop the overlooking mountain with his hands raised to the heavens in prayer (Shemot 17:8-12). From a Halachic perspective this is unusual, as the Talmud (Brachos 10b) instructs us not to stand in an elevated place when davening, but rather in a lower spot, as noted in Tehillim (130), “From the depths I call out to you, Hashem.”

While a typical prayer requires us to assume the posture of utmost humility, expressing our vulnerability and our dependence on G-d, in this situation we did not require that as we found ourselves in a position of obvious weakness, engaged in battle with a formidable enemy. What was needed at this point was an elevation of the role of G-d in the conflict, an adjustment of focus from the swords that we were bearing to the raised hands of Moshe on the mountaintop.

“His hands were Emunah, faith.” When Moshe stood on the mountain top, he was not simply offering a prayer for that moment of battle; he was setting the stage for how the Jewish people should forever see prayer and G-d’s role as the most relevant factor in our lives (Mishna Rosh Hashana 3:8). Prayer and G-d’s role must be lent prominence in the structure of our lives and communities. Moshe chose the elevated spot for prayer for the same reason that the Beit HaMikdash – our ultimate house of prayer - stood atop a mountain, and every shul is to be built at the high point of the city (Shabbos 11a). This positioning makes a critical statement of the prominence of prayer and faith in our lives. 

This is a valuable perspective on how we should view prayer. On the one hand there is the experience of prayer itself, the private and momentary pleading to G-d from our personal place of vulnerability. The significance of that prayer hinges on the extent of the emotion and kavanah that we can summon for it, the extent to which we pray from the depths of our hearts. On the other hand, there is prayer as a structural affirmation of the place of G-d and faith in our lives. This value is expressed both in the physical architecture of our Jewish communities and in how we as Jews structure our days, including prayer at every critical juncture. This aspect of prayer transcends the feelings we may manage to summon at the moment, and instead creates the framework of Emunah and G-d-consciousness that we build around our lives, elevating faith as our most profound reality.