Silencing the Supplicant


Shira Smiles shiur - 2017/5777

Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            Parshat Beshalach continues the saga of Bnei Yisroel's escape from Egypt. After Bnei Yisroel left, the Egyptians chased after them, eventually trapping Bnei Yisroel between the Egyptian forces behind them and the Red Sea blocking their advance in front of them. As they had done before, and as they would do many more times in the desert, Bnei Yisroel, fearing imminent death, called out to Moshe. In response, Moshe joined in their prayers and reassured them of Hashem's salvation. Hashem's response to these prayers is enigmatic. Instead of replying, "I am listening to your prayers," Hashem cuts Moshe off abruptly, replying instead, "Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them journey forth! And you lift up your staff and stretch out your arm over the sea and split it; and Bnei Yisroel shall come into the midst of the sea on dry land..."

            Considering that Hashem heard the cries of Bnei Yisroel and was moved to redeem them, it is puzzling that Hashem now stops Moshe and Bnei Yisroel from crying out to Him. How are we to understand this seeming change in protocol, this silencing of our supplications, especially since, as the Ner Uziel notes, prayer is appropriate in every situation especially in times of distress?

            However, there is a proper protocol when praying. Sometimes we have our own agenda and pray that Hashem grant us this request instead of asking Hashem to help us in the way He deems best. This is what Rabbi Bick proposes was the case here. Bnei Yisroel was expecting some sort of military victory or sudden death of the Egyptian hordes. Hashem's response is that you are praying for the wrong thing. Move forward and see what My plan is. I will split the sea, and watch what will become of the Egyptians, for you will never see them that way again.

            Rabbi Bick uses this idea to explain why making matches is often compared to the difficulty of splitting the Sea. Just as Bnei Yisroel seemed to be praying for a specific kind of salvation, so too do people often request that Hashem create a match between themselves and a specific person they have selected. Rabbi Bick suggests that the appropriate prayer is to ask Hashem to match him/her to a suitable partner, one which is often very different from the one he/she has initially visualized and desired as his match.

            As a variation of this idea, the Chasam Sofer suggests that Hashem did not stop Bnei Yisroel from praying. Rather He was telling them to ask Hashem for direction, what shall we pray for, or what do we need to do to make our prayers effective. The Chasam Sofer further suggests that while prayers often are effective in and of themselves, one needs to pray for the appropriate salvation. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh expands on this idea. When the Accuser stands before God and points a finger at the supplicant, the supplicant requires some merit in addition to the prayers for his prayers to be answered in the affirmative. At the Sea, the Accuser stood before God and declared, "These and these [both the Israelites and the Egyptians] worship idols," why should You save one at the expense of the other? Therefore Bnei Yisroel needed to pray for direction, they needed to know how to act to prove their worthiness of being saved. By jumping into the Sea before it was dry land, Bnei Yisroel would prove their deep faith in Hashem and thus merit salvation.

            Rabbi Eisenberger continues to explain some of the dynamics of tefillah, basing his words on the Ohr Hachaim. Tefillah works if we are deserving, and often works even if we are not deserving, for Hashem's attribute of mercy kicks in. However, the gates of emunah and bitachon, of faith, are always open even when we are not deserving. If one puts his faith and trust in Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Hashem returns that trust. Even a thief, if, while he is burglarizing a home, states that he has faith in Hashem that he will not get caught, says Rabbi Bloch as cited by Rabbi Goldberger, he will not be caught.

            These were the dynamics in motion at the edge of the Reed Sea, continues Rabbi Eisenberger. Bnei Yisroel needed an act of faith in addition to their prayers. Nachshon ben Aminodov jumped into the Sea, but he did not stop praying even as the waters approached his very soul. Only then did Hashem split the waters and reveal the path of dry land. We always need to daven for Hashem's mercy, but we never know when the Accuser has closed the gates of mercy to us. Therefore, we need to constantly demonstrate our complete faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu and in His salvation. This is as applicable today in our daily lives as it was then. It is easy in business, for example, to blame failure on competition or other economic factors rather than placing our faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu. How often does our davening suffer, both in pace and in concentration, as we focus on an important business meeting during our prayers? Do your hishtadlus, your due diligence, but put your faith in God. Yes, our heartfelt prayers full of faith have the potential to be extremely effective, but because it is so easy to be distracted writes Rabbi Druck in Aish Tomid, we must also demonstrate our faith through our actions.

            Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz cites Rashi in stating that two things were necessary for the splitting of the Sea, the merit of our forefathers and faith in the Creator. Our Sages instituted the Song of the Sea as part of our daily prayer precisely to remind us daily of the necessity of constant faith in the Creator.  With that faith, any sea can be split, from the Reed Sea to the sea of our daily troubles; without that faith, one cannot even cross the threshold of his own home. If you truly believe, demonstrate it in your daily actions and Nachshon ben Aminodov did at the Sea. As Rabbi S. R. Hirsch points out, the salvation was ready, but man had to take the first step.

            The last paragraph of the Amidah prayer supports this view, writes writes Neot Deshe. In that final paragraph, we ask Hashem's help first in helping us control our tongues so that we refrain from speaking evil. Only later, after controlling our actions, do we ask Hashem's spiritual help to open our hearts to His Torah and to His mitzvoth. Similarly, Hashem first spoke to Moshe after Moshe took action and turned aside to see and understand the mystery of the burning bush.

            While davening with intensity and building more merits through one's religious, spiritual and social actions go hand in hand, one must nevertheless accept that the final outcome of one's situation and request lies solely in the decision of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, writes Rabbi Belsky zt”l in Einei Yisroel.

            One must also determine which requests need our hishtadlus and which do not, writes Rabbi Chaim Goldberger in Six Steps of Bitachon. When we are absolutely certain that our need will be met, there is no need for further hishtdlus on our part. Rabbi Goldberger gives the example of air to breathe. Hashem provides this for all the world regardless of merit. (Although I would venture to say that an asthmatic or other breathing challenged individual could certainly benefit from both tefillot and positive action.) However, when the outcome is questionable, we must put our faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu even as we do our hishtadlus. The story is told of a businessman who asked Rabbi Feinstein ztz"l if he could close on an important business deal during the three weeks designated as a mourning period and carrying negative energy. Rabbi Feinstein responded that he could go ahead with the deal but should otherwise observe the traditional mourning customs of the season. The man went through with the deal but decided it would be unseemly not to shave for this business meeting. Just as the deal was about to close, the other party asked why he should trust this businessman. Our coreligionist answered that he was an Orthodox Jew, whereupon the other businessman asked him how he could be Orthodox if other Jews he knew did not shave during this time. Because he relied more on customary business practice than on Hashem, he lost the deal. (Similar challenges were faced by many Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century who were told, "If you don't show up for work on Saturday, don't show up on Monday." While many failed this challenge, others passed and went on to lead successful lives after those very difficult times.)

            Along these lines, the Slonimer Rebbe in Netivot Shalom notes the partnership between God and Man. There may be an awakening of activation from Above or initiation that begins below, here on earth.  The redemption from Egypt was totally from Above, initiated and carried through by Hashem. However, the splitting of the Sea required initiation from below through an act of faith on the part of Bnei Yisroel. It required us moving beyond our nature, it required someone jumping into the Sea to be the catalyst for the activation from Above and for our salvation. Similarly, when Haman issued the decree that all the Jews be killed, Mordechai gathered all the Jews together to pray for salvation, but it required Esther's mesirat nefesh, self sacrifice and putting herself in harm's way by approaching King Ahasuerosh without his personal invitation, to actually bring about the salvation. Sometimes in our lives prayer alone is not enough. Like our forefathers at the Reed Sea, we too must demonstrate self sacrifice and move out of our comfort zones, out of what would seem natural to us, even as we continue to pray, in order to activate the forces from Above to help us.

            Rabbi Pincus zt”l,  in  Tiferes Shimshon, links many of these ideas together and relates them to our current situation. As in Egypt, we find ourselves in cultures of extreme depravity, and we must exhibit tremendous self control and self sacrifice to maintain the purity of our Jewish homes and Jewish souls. Just as in Egypt this challenge was the precursor to the salvation, so today do we expect that we are already in the "footsteps of Moshiach" and the current salvation, may it be speedily in our day.

            Rabbi Pincus zt”l then proceeds to further establish a connection between the Seventh Day of Pesach when we crossed the Sea and Sukkot, specifically with the ritual of the Drawing of the Water for the Beit Hamikdosh service and the tremendous joy inherent in that ritual. The water was drawn from the Shiloach Pool, brought to the Beit Hamikdosh, and then poured in one of two holes on the altar (the other hole being for the wine libation). This hole went down to the tehom, to the abyss that preceded the creation of the world itself.

            Water was everywhere, representing the kindness of Hashem. During the creation process, the waters were split to upper and lower waters. That's why rain represents God's love, kisses from Heaven. On Sukkot, we connect to the lower waters of Hashem's everlasting chessed, and we feel the embrace of Hashem's closeness, especially after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur.

            The symbolism of the deep waters of the Water Libation are paralleled with the symbolism of the waters of the Seventh Day of Pesach. Whereas the waters of Sukkot remind us of God's everlasting love for us, the miracle of the splitting of the Sea reminds us of our challenge for self sacrifice for God. When we displayed that self sacrifice, Hashem again surrounded us on all sides with the waters of the chessed of the deep as we walked on dry land within the sea bed. To access such Divine love above and beyond the natural order of the world requires more than prayer. It also requires self sacrifice, now as then. We can also access the deep, Divine love of the waters within the abyss.

            We too must show deep commitment to the values of Yiddishkeit, and make the necessary sacrifices in our lives to distance ourselves from the lures of the yetzer horo. Our souls should long for the holiness and purity of Torah lives, our joy should shine forth in our Torah observance. Our children should be witnesses to this joy and want that joy to be an integral part of their lives. But if that joy eludes you, that desire should form the basis of your prayer. We should ask Hashem to help us experience the joy if Yiddishkeit, a joy that should radiate beyond ritual. When we can pray for the ability to sacrifice for the purity and joy of Yiddishkeit, for the ability to sanctify His Name throughout our lives, Hashem will not silence our supplications, but will split the impossible sea for us.