Friday, January 30, 2015

BeShalach 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

The nation of Israel is standing at the sea, trapped. The sea is before them and the Egyptian army is in hot pursuit behind them. The nation seeing this cried out to God. Moshe Rabbeinu, as well, cried out to God. The Ibn Ezra1 and the Ramban2 both have difficulty with Moshe Rabbeinu crying out to God. God had just finished telling him exactly what would happen. There were no surprises here. God told Moshe to bring the nation back to camp by the sea. He told Moshe clearly that Pharaoh would pursue them and that God would be glorified by the destruction of the Egyptians before their eyes. The nation may not have known all this. It is not clear from the pesukim that Moshe Rabbeinu told them. They certainly had every reason to cry to God in prayer. Why, though, did Moshe Rabbeinu cry out to God? He knew exactly what was about to transpire.

The Sfas Emes explains that it is the way of the righteous to cry out to God even after they are promised salvation. As a vehicle for serving God and coming close to Him, prayer is relevant and required even after God promises to fulfill a request. Chazal teach us that there are no guarantees for the righteous.3 According to the Sfas Emes, this means that the righteous understand that they must turn to God even after assurances are given. In fact, the Sfas Emes takes this idea a step further and says that God only promises those who He knows will continue to turn to Him in prayer even after the promise. Moshe Rabbeinu, therefore, cried out to God even after the promise. For this very reason, God made the promise known to him.

The nation, on the other hand, apparently would not have continued to pray for salvation had we known God’s promise to destroy the Egyptians. It is possible that for this reason God did not command Moshe Rabbeinu to convey the promise of Egypt’s destruction to the nation. Chazal teach us that God wants us to cry out to Him.4 In Shir HaShirim (2:14) we find, “ יוֹנָתִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע ... הַשְׁמִיעִנִי אֶת-קוֹלֵךְ .../My dove, in the clefts of the rock … let me hear your voice …” The Midrash in this week’s parsha explains that this is an allegory. It refers to God telling the nation of Israel at the sea that He wants to hear our voice in prayer.

God wants us to turn to Him always. The Sfas Emes teaches in a different ma’amar that we are required to turn to God in prayer even after our prayers are answered. This approach to prayer is very different from the conventional approach. This approach to prayer is based on the concept that prayer is primarily a tool for coming close to God, may we merit it.

1Ibn Ezra on Shmos 14:15
2Ramban on Shmos 14:15
3Breishis R. 76:2
4Shmos R. 21:5


Rabbi R said...

With all of this said, that tzadikim still cry out even after the havtacha, why would Hashem say to Moshe "mah tizaak alay?" Moshe is crying out because it is the way of tzadikim to cry out even when they have a havtacha so why would Hashem express "surprise" that Moshe is crying out?

Moshe David Tokayer said...

Rabbi R,

Thank you for your question. The Sfas Emes teaches in the previous ma'amar that the purpose of prayer is to come close to HaShem. The fact that we ask for the things we need is only an excuse a heichi timtza) for prayer. The goal really is closeness to Hashem.

Moshe Rabbeinu was on a level that he did not need to pray in order to come close to HaShem. He did not need that tool. He was already there. At any other time, HaShem would not have said anything. HaShem would have been happy, as it were, that Moshe Rabbeinu was praying. However, in this case, with the Egyptians upon them, there was no time for this. For the sake of the nation he should have foregone the prayer and just acted.