Sunday, February 05, 2012

tefilah -- more on the cart vs. the horse

Last post I suggested that according to the Mechilta, it was not the circumstance of being in the midbar that caused the mon to fall; it was not the circumstance of being pursued by the Egyptians that caused Hashem to split the Yam.  Aderaba -- it was because Hashem wanted Bnei Yisrael to experience the mon that he brought them to the midbar; it was because Hashem wanted them to experience the miracle of splitting Yam Suf that he caused the Egyptians to pursue them.

We find this idea elsewhere in the parsha as well, in a very deep idea Rav Hutner found in Maharal.  The Egyptians were in hot pursuit, Bnei Yisrael had their back against the wall (or sea) with no way out.  What do you do when you are out of ideas and have no place to turn?   You daven!  Moshe turned to Hashem in tefilah.  Yet, and this may be the only place something like this happened, Hashem responded by telling Moshe to stop davening and tell Bnei Yisrael  to step into the sea.  Meforshim struggle to understand Hashem's response of, "Mah titzak elilei," asking Moshe why he was davening.  What else was Moshe supposed to do?   Why was davening an inappropriate reaction?

The Maharal in Gur Aryeh (based on the Rashi) explains (unlike many of the other meforshim) that it was not that tefilah per se was inappropriate.  Hashem wanted Moshe's tefilos more than anything in the world.  Yet, precisely because Hashem wanted those tefilos so much that they posed a danger -- Why would Hashem save Bnei Yisrael when doing so would mean cutting short Moshe's davening?  Imagine someone pouring out his soul, reciting Tehillim with great hislahavus and kavanah because of some impending tragedy -- it's almost a shame to remove the threat of tragedy and lose those Tehillim!  So Hashem asked Moshe to please stop.  Close the Tehillim so I can save Bnei Yisrael.

Rav Hartman in his footnotes to this Maharal quotes from Rav Hutner that this idea does not apply to every situation.  No one should think that by saying Tehillim he/she will cause a choleh to remain sick or some tragedy to not be averted.  In most cases, Hashem wants (for whatever reason) to put a person in a certain circumstance or situation.  It's because the person is uncomfortable with the situation that Hashem wanted that he/she davens to try to change the gezeirah.  By Yam Suf it was different.  Hashem did not want the circumstance or situation; Hashem wanted the tefilah.  The whole situation developed precisely in such a way to ellicit those prayers of Moshe Rabeinu.  So long as the end goal was met, i.e. Moshe was davening, there was no need to make any change in the situation -- exactly what was supposed to be happening was happening.  It was only once Moshe ceased tefilah that Hashem would turn his attention kavyachol to splitting the Sea.

Rav Hartman sees a hint to this type of tefilah in the pasuk in Yehayahu, "Terem nikra'u v'ani e'eneh, od hein medabrim v'ani eshma."  Sometimes we call out in tefilah and before we are even done Hashem answers.  But sometimes, like at Yam Suf, "od heim medabrim," so long as the tefilah continues, "ani eshma," Hashem says that He just listens.  Why interfere with a situation when the most beautiful thing in the world is taking place as a result?

A simplistic reading of the parsha might lead a person to think that tefilah is sometimes not as valuable or important as it otherwise might seem.  Based on the Maharal, the lesson is exactly the opposite -- we see from our parsha the greatness of tefilah, so much so that Hashem would delay the salvation of Klal Yisrael just to continue to listen to Moshe's words.


  1. A couple of years back I put up a post on tefilla at

  2. Anonymous5:02 PM

    >>> doing so would mean cutting short Moshe's davening

    what's to cut short? taking Moshe's cry over Miryam for his preferred format (behaalotecha 12:13), we're talking a total of 5 words: 'God, please save them now!'

  3. I hear the Maharal, but we find by Miriam's Tzaraas that Moshe davened a short Tefila so that no one should say that "He's davening while his sister is suffering". There also it's hard to understand, Why not daven if she is in a Tzara? Can the same explanation be said there?

  4. Anonymous3:11 AM

    even if Moshe kept (for whatever reasons) his crying out to 5 words, the problem could be this: once he spoke, advocating angels took up his cry; countless angelic choruses chimed in; victims of cruelty worldwide inwardly echoed his plea (waters worldwide would soon split with the sea), as did all the disempowered of earth--Hashem shook Moshe, 'look what you've done! not until this universal supercommotion (music to My ears though it be) subsides can I cue you to wave the theatric mateh for the Signature act of My Big-budget Glorification extravaganza'...

  5. great unknown8:05 AM

    Rav Schwab in Ma'yan Bais HaShoeva points out that later Moshe dovened forty days and forty nights. The difference is that indeed tefilla is a form of devaikus that is beloved by Hashem and greatly elevated the mispallel. However, that's only when the object of the tefilla is not suffering or in danger, as when Moshe was on Har Sinai. Hashem had already forgiven the Bnei Yisroel, and now Moshe was being mispallel that Hashem should be mekaraiv them again and give them the torah.

    But when yidden are suffering, as by the kri'as yam suf or by Miriam, then one should praying powerfully but concisely: למה תצעק אלי . This was the lesson that Moshe Rabbeinu learned here, and applied later by Miriam.

    This, it seems to me, is what the bnei yisroel would have meant with "he's dovening while his sister is suffering." The tza'ar of his sister, or any ben or bas yisroel, takes precedence over the greatest deveikus.

    A similar order of precedence is established by Avrohom and the malachim: הכנסת אורחים is greater than קבלת פני השכינה.

    This is an understanding that I find myself lacking many [most?] times, but it's something that must be internalized. והלכת בדרכיו and ואהבת לרעך are the sine qua non of yiddishkeit.

  6. Anonymous5:19 PM

    >>> Close the Tehillim so I can save
    Bnei Yisrael

    Moshe'd been crying with increasing
    fervor & volume, Tehillim 90:15*
    (only 6** words, but the repetitions
    got to be too much once Mitrayim's push became shove)

    * & שמחנו it was, as all of Bnei
    Yisrael became prophets (& prophecy
    requires simcha!)

    ** w/in the margin of error, 5 +/- 1

  7. In the case of Miriam, Moshe kept his tefilah short lest Bnei Yisrael misinterpret his long tefilah on her behalf as an act of nepotism, as Rashi there explains (though see the spin I had on it in this post

  8. >>>The difference is that indeed tefilla is a form of devaikus that is beloved by Hashem and greatly elevated the mispallel. However, that's only when the object of the tefilla is not suffering or in danger,

    I'm having a hard time understanding this distinction. The reason (b'pashtus) that any tefilah works, no matter what the circumstance -- choleh, tza'ar, or otherwise -- is because the person who is davening (or being davened for, however that works) is elevated and achieves a higher level of dveikus. How can you speak of tefilah distinct from dveikus?

  9. great unknown8:27 PM

    re 7:20 you're bringing the second pshat in Rashi. The first pshat is the diametric opposite - that people would say that a long dovening would be a sign of his selfishness because it was more important to him to be connected to Hashem than to actually cure his sister's pain.

    As far as dveikus as the mechanism for tefilla - that's a rough thing to discuss with a chossid. There is an inyan of bris krusa l'sfosayim which is part of the mechanical operation of olam hazeh. Dveikus would make it more effective in the same sense that the zchus of torah she'biksav of a perek tehillim would make it more effective, but it is not the "mechanism."

    There is a specific type of tefilla, which we are obligated in d'oraysa or d'rabanan, of avodah sheb'laiv. But this is true whether of not we actually feel the need to request anything at that time. This may be pure d'veikus or primarily d'veikus.

    On the other hand, there is a tefilla which flows from the simple combination of emunah and need. "Az es tut vai, shreit men." Thus, in the Igros, Reb Moshe says that a goy[who is obviously not commanded in avodah she'blaiv] has a need, and does not doven for it, he is over on kefirah.

    I may not have given over the full flavor of the R' Schwab; it is certainly worthwhile seeing inside.

  10. >>>There is an inyan of bris krusa l'sfosayim which is part of the mechanical operation of olam hazeh.

    I'm confused. Wasn't it a few days ago when discussing segulos (and it may not have been you that said this, but I understood you to be sympathetic to such a view) that folks were up in arms over the idea of performing a mechanical recitation to have a positive effect on parnasa. Now, it's "bris kerusa l'sefasayim" and words can have an effect as a mechanical operation even without dveikus.

    I don't think you need to be a chosid (I'm not) to associate tefilah with dveikus. The Maharal is filled with this idea in Nesiv ha'Avodah, and I'm sure you can find it in Nefesh haChaim as well.

  11. There is an idea in many places in the Tif Shlomo and other chassidishe seforim, but it's also in Nefesh haChaim, that no tefilah should ever be directed to Hashem for the sake of personal need. All tefilah is purely for the sake of the tza'ar haShechina, i.e. the pain of the Shechina being separated from the world. If that's the problem tefilah comes to solve, how it does it is all about reconnecting the Shechina to the world, i.e. dveikus.

    Nefesh haChaim II:12 - "...Kol tachlis tefilas ha'adam lefanav... l'hasir mei'alav tza'aro hu rak al ha'tza'ar shel ma'alah hamishtatef imo b'tza'aro..."

    If l'mashal someone really wanted the Giants to win last night and davened ma'ariv with that kavanah, correct me if I'm wrong, but you would extol that as a wonderful expression in emunah in Hashem's hasgacha even over football. I would see it as chutzpah k'lapei shemaya in having the audacity to ask Hashem to intervene in such a petty thing (but I'll give you this: He still even answers these type tefilos as well : )

  12. On the topic of being makatzer in tefilah, I found another mareh makom: the Netziv in the Harchev Davar to Braishis 18:22 towards the end.

  13. great unknown10:38 PM

    And according to the Igros Moshe, that's exactly what a Giants fan should have done.

    A major source is Brachos 63a with the girsa of the Ayn Yaakov: "ganva a'pum machtarta... Note Reb Tzadok in Tzidkas HaTzadick 258.

    The Michtav Me'Eliyahu makes this point [3:68] bluntly. If you want something, then automatically you are dovening: either to the kochos hateva or lehavdil to the RBShO. There is no in-between. I you think differently, then either you don't really have the desire, or you are fooling yourself. Note how this comports with Reb Moshe's comment about a goy who doesn't doven is a kofer, and therefore over on avoda zarah.

    See also Michtav Me'Eliyahu 4:289 at the bottom of the page where he notes that the tefilla of a rasha is often answered, and in any case makes a roshem; this we see from the korbonos of Balak.

    I won't insult you by assuming you were serious in comparing a mechanical tefilla to a mechanical recital of psukim [dvar Hashem Baza, etc.] as a segula.

    My mesora is that the issue of dovening for the tza'ar hashechina refers to Shmone Esrai. But even then the gemora clearly says that a person with specific personal needs should doven for them in the appropriate brocho [as Rashi says, poignantly: if he has trouble remembering what he learns, he should insert a personal bakasha in chonen hada'as].

    The tefillos after Shmonei Esrai are specifically singular and personal, as is the yehi ratzon shetatzilaini in birchos hashachar, where the Tur says that if you need special protection, mention it there: shetazilaini mai'adam ra, umai'haIRS, etc...

    As far as dovening for the Giants, many people must have, because otherwise my tefillos for the Patriots would have prevailed. Or perhaps that was just a manifestation of hester Panim.

  14. great unknown10:45 PM

    As long as you're citing the Netziv, see also the Netziv on Ma Titz'ak Eilai. A yeshua bederech hateva requires tefilla, one bederech nais does not.

    This is the old Yiddish story:

    Berel: Oi what a tzoro! We need a nais.

    Mendel: Ain somchim al ha'nais. Let's say Tehillim.