Tuesday, December 09, 2014

the paradox of tefilah

Some interpret this (5633 d”h v’atah amarta) Sefas Emes to be commenting on the fact that Ya’akov did not specify HOW G-d should save him, only that he BE saved.  Ya’akov did not try to figure out what Hashem would do to get him out of the situation; he just put his trust in Hashem that somehow he would get out of it (see the sefer Sifsei Da’as).

I think the S.E.’s comment is motivated by Ya’akov’s reference to Hashem’s promise of “heiteiv eitiv…” You don’t need to be a Ya’akov Avinu or have a promise of protection to turn to Hashem in a time of need.  Why did Ya’akov refer back to the promise Hashem had given him years earlier – why didn’t he just say, “Hatzileini na m’yad achi m’yad Eisav…?” 

Whenever we daven and ask Hashem to protect us from X or save us from Y, we are implicitly foisting our judgment that X or Y is bad for us into the mix.  Who knows?  Maybe what you think is a tzarah is really necessary to drive you to grow or to bring about a needed kapparah.  Maybe what you are asking for would in the end prove more harmful than the one you are in now.  Ya’akov suspended and reserved all judgments.  If not for the fact that Hashem had promised that he would not be harmed, he would have accepted whatever circumstance came his way with equal equanimity.  It’s only because “atah amarta heiteiv eitiv” that he davened to be saved.
I find (and I've done a post on this before) the whole idea of teflah in response to crisis to be paradoxical.  On the one hand, how can a person question what G-d has doled out to him?  Doesn't that imply a lack of trust?  On the other hand, isn't turning to G-d in tefilah to ask for the situation to be changed the greatest expression of trust?


  1. Wasn't this same question asked about Tzedaka & Milah? Ella mai, Hashem wants us to daven to him for our needs based on our perception of them - V'adam Ayin La'avod.

    1. The existence of poverty or the existence of an orlah is an objective reality, isn't it? Whether something is an eis tzarah is subjective.