Thursday, November 15, 2012

tefilah and emunah that all is for the best -- a contradiction in terms?

1. In the previous post I mentioned the Radomsker's suggestion that Eliezer merited kefitzas ha'derech and was able to complete his journey to Avraham's birthplace in one day because he had such a love of Avraham's torah that Hashem arranged for him to not miss a single shiur from his rebbe, Avraham Avinu.  From here we see that Hashem will do the miraculous to bring a person's desire for torah to fruition.

I want to follow that thought up with a Chasam Sofer in this week's parsha.  We know that a person receives reward not only for the actual performance of a mitzvah, but for the preparation and travel time as well.  For example, the gemara tells us that a person gets reward for the walk to shul -- the longer the walk, the more the reward.  When Ya'akov Avinu, disguised as Eisav, came to serve his father a meal just a short while after Yitzchak had sent Eisav out to hunt, Yitzchak asked his son, "Mah zeh miharta limtzo b'ni?"  "Why are you back so early?" Given that Hashem rewards a person for every step and every effort done in the performance of a mitzvah, Yitzchak wondered why Hashem would allow Eisav to return so quickly from the hunt.  Why the mini-kefitzas derech here?

A few pesukim later the Torah reveals the answer.  Yitzchak recognized that the voice he heard was, "Ha'kol kol Ya'akov," which Chazal explain is a reference to the voice of Torah learning coming from batei midrashos.  The value of schar halicha is more significant than anything else you might otherwise put time and effort into, with one exception: talmud torah.  If the additional travel time it takes to go to the further shul, to stay out hunting a little longer to fulfill kibud av, means that time is taken away from learning, then the loss exceeds the gain.  "Ha'kol kol Ya'akov" -- Yitzchak recognized that his son was engaged in learning, and understood that Hashem would therefore arrange for his hunt to be concluded as fast as possible so Ya'akov could get back to the beis medrash.

2. I want to focus again on the theme of tefilah, as I really think the many problems we face communally demand that we intensify our efforts and dedication to davening.

A few weeks ago we discussed Rashi's comment that Sarah was angry at Avraham when Yishmael was born to Hagar because she felt Avraham had failed to daven on her behalf.  In contrast, Yitzchak made sure Rivka was aware that he was davening on her behalf, as the Torah tells us, "VaYe'etar Yitzchak l'nochach ishto." In fact, from the stress on "l'nochach ishto" it seems that Yitzchak davened only for his wife without regard for his own feelings.  R' Shlomo Kluger (in Imrei Shefer) explains that Yitzchak was raised in the home of the gadol ha'dor, Avraham Avinu, and internalized the lesson that whatever Hashem dished out could only be for his own good.  If Hashem chose for him to not have children, who was he to protest?  Yitzchak, after all, was willing to go to the akeidah with no questions asked!  Rivka on the other hand did not come from this same type of background.  As the Torah reminds us just a few pesukim earlier, she was "Bas Besuel... achos Lavan," the daughter of Besuel and sister of Lavan (see Rashi).  Rivka's expectations would have been very different than that of her husband Yitzchak's.  Therefore, in deference to her feelings, Yitzchak davened on her behalf that they be blessed with children.

I am not sure what to make of this vort in light of the gemara (Yevamos 65) that the Imahos all had difficulty having children because Hashem desired their tefilos.  Rav Dessler writes that the greatest chessed Hashem can give us is the ability to come close to him.  What the gemara means is that Hashem withheld the chessed of allowing the Imahos to bring children into the world in order to provide them with the greater chessed of bringing them even closer to him through their tefilos.   I am not bothered by there being competing explanations as to why Rivka more so than Yitzchak felt pressed to daven or to have Yitzchak daven on her behalf, as in many areas there often are multiple competing explanations in pshat and derash.  I am bothered by the underlying philosophical contradiction between the two approaches.  According to Chazal, Hashem did not want the Imahos to be complacent in the face of difficulty -- He wanted them to respond by calling out in tefilah.  Tefilah is an ideal to aspire to, not a b'dieved.  Yet according to R' Shlomo Kluger, tefilah seems to reflect a lack of the highest level of emunah, which is complete acceptance of any and all situations, no questions asked.

Does it make sense to pose the same question outside the context of the parsha?  If a person really feels "kol mah d'avid Rachmana l'tav avid," that whatever Hashem does is for the absolute good, meaning that any pain and suffering he/she may experience is really the best situation he/she could possibly be in, then why should a person even daven?  Ironically, the mitzvah of tefilah as it appears in the Torah is precisely a response to "batzar lecha,,,,," a request for relief from pain and suffering -- not tefilah of shevach v'hoda'ah.  Isn't every request from Hashem to change the situation for the "better" a reflection of a lack of emunah that Hashem has already put the person in a situation that is best -- there is no "better"?  

I don't think the question gets off the ground if framed in that way, as it fails to take into account our ability to exercise free choice.  "Kol d'avid *Rachamana* l'tav avid" -- whatever Hashem does to us is for the best, but what we do to ourselves because of our frailties, our shortcomings, our tendency to succumb to temptation, is to our own detriment.  If a person chooses to put him/herself in a situation of spiritual harm, Hashem will do what is best for the person given the circumstance, but things might have turned out better had that circumstance never arisen to begin with.  Tefilah reflects our desire to change the situation, to adjust the circumstances.  It's the recognition that we have created a problem and the hope that by coming closer to Hashem we can undo it. 

That answer provides little satisfaction in the context of our parsha.  The Imahos did not choose to be barren -- they were thrust into that situation willy-nilly.  How then do we square the gemara's statement that Hashem did so to ellicit their tefilos with the Imrei Shefer's idea that acceptance of the situation is the highest level of emunah?  I don't have a good answer -- what do you think?

3. There is another Midrash that teaches the reason why Rivka was barren for so many years is so people should not say the tefilah of Lavan and Besuel that we read in last week's parsha, "At he'yei l'alfei revava," is what caused Rivka to have children.  (Yes, this does seem to contradict the gemara in Yevamos 65 -- see Rinas Yitzchak).  I assume the Torah does not need to teach us a silly hava amina is wrong -- it's only a hava amina that might have some legitimacy that would warrant a counter-argument.  Apparently in spite of Rivka's own tzidkus, in spite of her being married to the gadol ha'dor Yitzchak Avinu, we might have thought that without the addition of the tefilos of the wicked Besuel and Lavan they would not have merited to have children.  Kah mashma lan the Midrash that this would be a factual error, but I don't think the Midrash means to say it would be a philosophical error.  In truth so potent is the power of tefilah that even the prayers of such absolute resha'im as Besuel and Lavan can theoretically impact and influence events even beyond what tzadikim might otherwise accomplish through their good deeds alone.

We are not a community of Lavans and Besuels.  Surely our tefilos, as meager as they are, can make a difference. 

More to say on this maybe another time.  I apologize for being more and more pressed for time and having to push blogging to the side, but such is life.   


  1. Anonymous2:37 AM

    >>> 2. How then do we square...?

    "the acceptance of the situation" corresponds to
    the original intent for creation, a world of pure din; once that intent was modified, bdei
    eved, to include rachamim, then tefilah, a plea for mercy, became the l'chatchila norm for those living according to structure... (and so it is for 3., in a world where mercy is critical, that everyone may well need a bracha [not a prayer, but a bracha, from Lavan and Besuel {or from Lavan & Rivkah's mother?}] from whomever he/she can get it!)

    1. Anonymous8:47 PM

      ..."living according to structure" means that if no one ever
      begs for Mercy, the world would self-destruct

      yes Yitzchak may seem to play it tough, to daven "only for his
      wife without regard for his own feelings", to proceed to the
      akeidah "with no questions asked", however--

      when does the wiggle room of Mercy enter creation? when does
      something deviate from Elokim's command, & get away with it?
      after "aitz pri", 1:11, we find of course mere "aitz" in 1:12,
      & we're clued back to this switch by "atzei ha'olah", 22:6,
      as it becomes merely "ha'eitzim" in 22:7 (when in fact Yitzchak
      DOES ask a question: "ayei ha'seh l'olah?"); what was supposed to be fruity became woody in 1:11-12, such that wood
      that was supposed to be na'ar-topped can become
      seh/a'yil-topped, such that Yitzchak, a progenitor of the people of the covenant, might be spared (& that same people
      being the reason the world endures, we see what was said at first: without Mercy amid pure Din {in Yitzchak's case in
      particular}, Destruction to the ends of the earth...)

  2. 2. My thoughts on תפלה that atleast resolve some of the issues raised for me: תפלה is not requesting (there's hardly a single sentence of request in שמונה עשרה!!), it's asserting definition/judgment` of what one believes reality ought to be, should be. You MUST have an opinion to be mispallel, to voice your opinion. חלילה לך מעשות כדבר הזה. if after expressing oneself שמים still chooses it's own path, then כל מה דעביד רחמנא לטב עביד. I further expanded the thought on my own blog fyi if you want to search there -- i try not to spam other people's blogs with links.

  3. >>>there's hardly a single sentence of request in שמונה עשרה

    I beg to differ -- every single bracha is a request.'ah. Slach lanu. Re'eh b'anyeibu. Bareich aleinu. Refainu... etc. etc.

    1. חננו סלח לנו ראה בענינו ... are all lashon tzivui.

    2. maybe i wasn't being so clear. there's never a mention of a word such as "please" or the like in shmone esrei -- נא, בבקשה, אנו מתחננים, וכולי

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  5. 2- answer could be that lgabai rivka hkbh wants and cherishes her tefilos. But lgabai yitzchok who was bmidas gevura and emotionless like, went against and mas msgaber on it - vayetar- entreated and put emotions into it. With that the tefilos were mekabel