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Parsha Beshalach

01/17/2019 09:25:51 PM

Jan17

Sandwiched between an unapproachable Yam Suf and an incensed Egyptian Army, the Jewish people’s reaction to this terrifying predicament seems to be quite paradoxical.  On the one hand, they respond in prayer by crying out to God, but as the very next Pasuk indicates, they also lash out at Moshe by condemning him for their problems and wishing they had never left Egypt.  While the Ramban says that it is inconceivable that one group could react in such contradictory manner and it must be that there were two separate groups of Jews, those who prayed and those who complained, Rashi’s comments seem to disagree and suggest a possible reconciliation for the two responses.  Rashi writes that the Jews prayed “practicing the profession of their ancestors,” and Rashi then cites examples of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov all turning to God in their times of need.  Explaining this key phrase in Rashi, the Maharal explains that the as their complaints showed, the Jews did not really believe that God would save them and that their turning to God must have been because they were accustomed to habitual prayer- a custom which they had inherited from their ancestors.  Rashi understood that the Jews were disbelieving and critical of Moshe and God, and yet, even in their moments of disbelief, they instinctively practiced what their parents had done by crying to God.

R’ Hutner questions this explanation, because we repeatedly find references to God answering the prayers of our fathers before the Yam Suf.  As examples, we quote a verse from Nechemia during Pesukei D’zimra that states explicitly: “You saw the suffering of our fathers in Egypt and heard their outcry at Yam Suf,” and we further mention in the Aneinu supplication during Selichos: “May He who answered our fathers at Yam Suf answer us.”  If this prayer at Yam Suf was merely a “practice of the Avos’s profession” and truly insincere, than how could it be that God’s observation of this habitual act was the very reason for our salvation?  Moreover, why would this prayer become a prototype that we recall during our Teffilos?

Answering with a parable, R’ Hutner likens this to an orphaned boy who approaches his father’s affluent friend in desperate need of a favor.  As soon as the boy states who his father was, the friend replies- “Say no more, I will take care of you.”  It is not the content or sincerity of the boy’s words that move the friend, but rather the simple expression of associating himself with his father that stirs the friend to action.  The Jews may have been insincere in the content of their prayers, but by instinctively turning to prayer as what they were used to, they clearly expressed one moving point- that they were the Avos’s children- and that was all God needed to hear before he immediately said “Say no more, I will save you.”  Beyond the actual words of prayer, it was the very act of prayer itself that established their Jewish pedigree and stirred God’s miracles.  Our high demands for the right Kavana during Davening can leave us frustrated and critical of the davening experience, but we have to be comforted by this lesson that the mere act itself of praying may be valuable in its own right.  The complexities of the human mind and heart make insincerity the inevitable consequence of constant prayer, but that does not have to undermine the essence of the prayer experience itself.  Prayer- turning to God- has become the Jewish profession as taught to us by our ancestors, and it is that association itself that God saw at Yam Suf and that we hope he sees every time we stand before him in prayer. 

Wed, June 26 2019 23 Sivan 5779