Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pray For What You Want … First Want What You Pray For

לרפואת הרב דוד יצחק בן לאה גיטל בתוך שח"י

VaEschanan 5775 -An installment in the series of adaptations From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School 

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz 

HaShem said to Moshe and Ahron “Because you did not make the Bnei Yisrael have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in their presence you will not bring this community to the land that I have given them.” —BeMidbar 20:12 

That I swore in My Fury, that they should not come into My rest (i.e. the land of Israel). — Tehillim 95:11 

At that time I implored [VaEschanan] HaShem saying: “O L-rd , Elokim, You have begun … please allow me to cross the Jordan and see the good land that is on its other bank, the good Mountain and the Lebanon.” But HaShem turned against me on account of you and he did not listen to me and HaShem said to me “You’ve gone too far. Do not speak any additional [words] to Me about this matter.” Ascend to the summit of the cliff and lift your eyes to gaze … Command Yehoshua and strengthen and embolden him for it is he who will lead the people across and he will [be the one] to apportion the land that you will [only] see. —Devarim 3:23-28 

It was said of Rabi Chaninah ben Dosa that when he prayed on behalf of the ill [and concluded his prayers] he’d declare “this patient will live while this patient will die.” People would say to him “How do you know?” He’d respond “If my prayers [on the patients behalf] were fluent then I know that they were accepted but if they were ‘lacerated’ —disjointed and inarticulate — then I know that they were rebuffed [and so — that the patient is a goner]. — Mishnah Brachos 5:5 per Bartenura’s second approach HaShem is close to all His callers, to all who truly call out to Him. — Tehillim 145:18 [

Chizkiyah the king] said to [Yeshayah] “son of Amotz, complete your prophecy and leave. I have received this [wisdom] from the house of my ancestor ‘even when a sharp sword lays upon a man's neck [poised for decapitation] he should not desist from prayer.’” … as it says, “Though He slay me, yet will I place my hope in Him.” (Iyov 12:15) — Brachos 10A 

HaShem Elokim said to the snake “Because you did this you are more cursed … You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life.” —Bereishis 3:14 If a dreamer sees a snake in his dreams his livelihood will come to him easily (just as the snakes food supply, dust, is readily available wherever the snake finds himself) — Brachos 57A 

And it shall come to pass that, before they call, I will answer, and while they are still speaking, I will hear. —Yeshayah 65:24

This week’s Sidra –weekly Torah reading; opens with Moshe’s apparently futile appeal to HaShem to enter Eretz Yisrael-the Land of Israel. The Izhbitzer School makes many incisive observations about this prayer and draws a number of lessons that offer fresh perspectives on our own prayer and related issues. The entirety of Sefer Devarim-the Book of Deuteronomy; is Moshe Rabeinu’s valedictory address to Klal Yisrael-the Jewish people. Moshe did not prattle or filibuster chalilah- heaven forefend; every word was measured and of the utmost significance. As such the Izhbitzer wonders why would Moshe share the story of a fruitless prayer with Klal Yisrael? If this prayer had truly been an exercise in futility what takeaway lesson did it offer them? Moreover, the binyan hispael-reflexive conjugation; of the verb describing this act of prayer, VaEschanan, rather than employing the binyan pa’a’l-the straightforward conjugation; of Va’Achanen is indicative of Moshe’s having done something to himself with his imploring supplication. Specifically, the Izhbitzer maintains Moshe transformed himself into an overflowing fountain of prayer and imploring. There was no dissonance between the pray-er and the prayers, the medium merged with the message. 

In our contemporary parlance one might say that Moshe was “channeling” the imploring. There is no greater fluency possible than to become one with the utterances of the prayer and, as the Mishnah about Rabi Chaninah ben Dosa reveals; glib and smooth elocution while praying is a sure sign of the prayer’s efficacy. As such, despite outward appearances to the contrary,  Moshe’s prayer was answered, albeit perhaps not in the precise way that he imagined it. Had Moshe lived to cross the Jordan with the rest of Klal Yisrael he would no doubt, have remained in his position of leader for another generation. His prayer was efficacious inasmuch as, in spite of his dying and being buried on the East Bank of the Jordan, he remained Rabeinu-the Teacher-Rabbi-Master to the next generation that made the crossing into Eretz Yisrael proper and to all subsequent generations of Klal Yisrael. 

Moshe Rabeinu emphasized the timing of his prayer “At that time" meaning after HaShem had already sworn that he would not enter Eretz Yisrael. If ever there was “a sharp sword lying upon a man's neck poised for decapitation” in other words a hopeless problem beyond the power of prayer to solve, this was it. Moshe was not venting his frustration about an exercise in futility. Moshe was imparting, on a national level, the private lesson that King Chizkiyah would impart privately to Yeshaya the prophet centuries later; “even when a sharp sword lays upon a man's neck [poised for decapitation] he should not desist from prayer.” The Izhbitzer teaches that Moshe did not work himself into a prayerful mindset. The urge to pray this prayer that seemed doomed to failure was a complete isarusa d’l’eila-an inspiration from On-High. “But,” Moshe reasoned “Why would HaShem have inspired my urge to pray, unless he meant to answer my prayer by fulfilling my request? This is what Moshe meant when, during the prayer he advocated on his own behalf and said “O L-rd , Elokim, You have begun …” Moshe was saying “HaShem You opened a crack for me by sending me an isarusa d’l’eila, why do so unless You were actually going to allow me to cross the Jordan?” HaShem answered Moshe’s question and, subliminal prayer, in one fell swoop: “I sent you the isarusa d’l’eila so that all generations would learn from you to hope and pray when confronted with the hopeless and the unyielding to prayer. This is among the ways that you continue to teach them, to be Rabeinu, without crossing the Jordan. And now that’s enough; any more would be going too far, so say and pray no more. This lesson is enough.” 

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, expands on his father’s teaching about the isarusa d’l’eila that inspired Moshe to pray and with it, resolves an apparent difficulty in the passuk-verse; in Yeshayah 65. The first Gerrer Rebbe, the Chidushei Hori”m, poses this question about the curse of the primordial snake: How is it a curse to eat dust? Dust is easily found everywhere. The snake, unlike the rest of G-d’s creatures, never has to wonder where his next meal is coming from. In fact the gemara in Brachos even interprets the dream symbol of a snake to mean abundant food supply and livelihood! He answers that the snakes self sufficiency means that the snake’s relationship with G-d has been completely severed. Never more will the snake have to lift his eyes or voice Heavenward to ask the Sustainer of all things for his sustenance. With this in mind the Bais Yaakov tweaks “And it shall come to pass that, before they call, I will answer, and while they are still speaking, I will hear,” the literal translation of Yeshayah 65:24. What kind of relationship could be established between man and G-d if all needs and possible prayers are answered before the call goes out? If all of one’s needs are anticipated and met preemptively why pray at all? To address these difficulties the Bais Yaakov maintains that the phrase terem yikrau v’Ani e’eneh should be translated as “Before they have a desire I will implant these in them.” When G-d is kivyachol-so to speak; desirous of the relationship forged with a particular human being via prayer He awakens an intuition within the person to deeply and truly understands what it is that he is yearning for in the deepest depths of his heart. This epiphany stems from an isarusa d’l’eila not from the isarusa d’l’sata—an awakening from below—of a cheshbon hanefesh — an inernal spiritual audit — which may still allow the subjective person to “miss” his own hearts deepest desire and yearning. 

The Bais Yaakov boldly states that here is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. There are only prayers unworthy of the name as they did not emanate from the profoundest depths of the heart. If one asks with genuine truth and sincerity one receives. If one has not yet received it is because he has not truly asked/ prayed. While the pray-er himself is unaware, and would be defensive and incredulous if challenged, G-d, who “examines the heart and the kidneys” i.e. who is in touch with man’s deepest subconscious desires sees kivyachol, that the person has not yet prayed for what he believes he has prayed for. What he does pray for is, in truth, not what his heart yearns for. Like the primordial snake; only an evil person gets all his needs met absent prayer. There is no need to envy those who seem to “have it made’ without praying for their success. Nor is there any reason to become frustrated or get down on oneself for all the seemingly unanswered prayers. It merely means that what we are asking for is not what we want in our heart of hearts and what we do want in our heart of hearts has yet to be requested. When G-d in His Grace sends an isarusa d’l’eila of “Before they have a desire I will implant these in them” in other words and epiphany that makes them consciously aware of what they desire and need on a bedrock of-the-soul-level then the end of the passuk , “and while they are still speaking, I will hear,” is instantly realized as well. 

~adapted from Mei Hashiloach VaEschanan D”H VaEschanan and D”H Atah Hachilosa Bais Yaakov ahl haTorah v’HaMoadim VaEschanan D”H VaEschanan Maayanah shel Torah Bereishis 3:14