Friday, September 28, 2012

taking it personally

The Yerushalmi (Ta'anis 3:11) relates that there was once a drought and no rain fell.  What did R' Yochanan ben Zakai do?  He told his barber to go to the beis knesses and daven that R' Yochanan ben Zakai wanted to take a haircut and he couldn't because there was no water (I guess he got a wash with his cut).  Sure enough, after that tefilah it started to rain.

There were probably thousands if not millions of people impacted by that drought in all kinds of burdensome ways.  There was probably not enough water for drinking, for cooking, for bathing.  Yet, all that apparently made no impact in shamayim.  What made an impact is that fact that R' Yochanan ben Zakai was inconvenienced a little bit and could not get a haircut.  How do we make sense of this?!  Why should R' Yochanan ben Zakai's haircut matter more than the suffering of thousands or millions of others?

R' Elchanan Wasserman explained that this is exactly what the pasuk of "Hatzur tamim pa'alo... K-l emunah v'ain avel" in our parsha teaches us.  Hashem's justice is exact and precise.  For whatever reason, the population that suffered during the drought deserved that suffering.  There was no injustice in the din meted out whatsoever.  However, R' Yochanan ben Zakai did not deserve to be punished.  R' Yochanan ben Zakai did not deserve to suffer with everyone else.  He therefore had a right to say to Hashem, "It's not fair -- I'm suffering too."  And even if that suffering was trivial -- it's was just a haircut -- precisely because Hashem's justice is absolutely fair and R' Yochanan ben Zakai did not deserve it, the entire drought was cancelled. 

Aside from the lesson we learn from the Yerushalmi about the precision of Divine justice, I think we also learn something about tefilah.  I feel so strongly about what I've been writing about the past few posts I can't help but keep coming back to the same points.  Apparently had R' Yochanan ben Zakai just davened in general, or just davened that the population not suffer so much (I think it's safe to assume that he personally had enough water for drinking, cooking, etc. otherwise he would have mentioned those needs and not just his haircut), it would not have been enough.  R' Yochanan ben Zakai had to be able to say, "This drought bothers me."  He had to do something like schedule his haircut to make sure he aroused those feelings.  I think there is a twofold lesson here.  Firstly, one tefilah can make a difference.  Surely others besides R' Yochanan ben Zakai davened, but it was his tefilah that was the key.  Secondly, even for the great R' Yochanan ben Zakai, aino dome, there is no comparison between the tefilos uttered over the pain and suffering of others and the tefilos uttered when that pain and suffering hits home, even in a minor way. 

There are so many things that we need to daven for, but we tend to think of these things in the abstract.  Iran is a problem, the economy is a problem, people need refuah and yeshuos, etc.  I don't need to spell out the long list.  Yes, it's surely important to daven for Hashem to improve the economy or to help Eretz Yisrael have peace, etc.  But the question each one of us needs to ask is, "How does that effect me?"  It has to bother us; it has to make a difference in our lives.  Each of us needs to ask ourselves whether we can turn to Hashem and say, "I'm not just davening for the economy because my neighbor needs a job or my friend can't pay tuition -- I'm davening because, Hashem, even if I live in a mansion and have a chauffeur driving me around, it effects me too.  It's not just the pain of the tzibur that I'm davening for -- it's my pain."  Only then will our tefilos be real and meaningful.

While none of us is on the level of R' Yochanan ben Zakai, no one knows for sure whether it is not his or her personal cry that will make all the difference.  "Hatzur tamim pa'alo," and the entire Klal Yisrael can experience yeshuah and bracha to spare one individual from suffering unjustly.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:44 AM

    by your own account, wouldn't the barber's prayer
    for his honored customer have been B-grade, like
    any other prayer for a "neighbor" or "friend"?
    wouldn't his best shot at seeing clouds have been to plead to Hashem for recovery from the
    "hit" his business took from the drought?

    it sounds like the barber went to the beis knesses-- RYbZ's stomping ground --to pray for his client, while the rabbi remained in the
    barbershop (perhaps no more than a succah with stool & keilim inside) to request a business rebound for his hair man: each man put himself
    in the other's place to pray for the other, et