This Dvar Torah was written by Mrs. Lori Palatnik. She is the Rebbetzin of The Village Shul
in Toronto, Ontario.
Prayer. How do we relate to prayer? Is it something only children do at
bedtime? Is prayer reserved for services in synagogue? Why do we pray?
Should we pray? Why is prayer considered one of the fundamental pillars of
Judaism? Many questions. Let us look at this week's parsha and try and
derive some answers.
In VaYishlach, we find Yaakov receiving the news that his wicked and
vengeful brother, Esav, (who, we remember from last week's parsha had
threatened to kill him), is planning to arrive with 400 of his men.
Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, points out that upon hearing
the news, Yaakov has three choices before him: to appease Esav through
gifts; to prepare for war with him; and to pray.
Yaakov chose to utilize all three options, but the order in which he chose
to implement them is significant-- especially, when he chose to use prayer.
Rashi notes that clearly Yaakov chose to prepare for battle first by
dividing his people, only then did he pray, and then he sent gifts.
It seems surprising that Yaakov, one of the Fathers of The Fathers of The
Jewish People, who was connected with The Almighty and fully understood the
power of prayer, would not immediately turn to G-d for help.
Another familiar story where the Jewish People do turn to G-d first,
is the at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Remember, the Egyptians were
behind them and the sea was in front of them. What did they do? They
prayed. They asked G-d to help them. And what did He answer? "Speak to the
Children of Yisrael that they should move on." The Midrash relates that
Nachshon Ben Aminadov began to walk into the sea. He walked deeper and deeper,
and before the sea engulfed him, it dramatically split.
And in this we find an important insight into what prayer is all about.
G-d responds to us based on our choices. Belief in the power of prayer
is also the belief in our responsibility to make the supreme effort.
Prayers are meaningful and effective when preceded by serious action
and intent. G-d creates a situation where we are faced with a choice,
because through that conflict and choice we have the ability to grow and
realize our true potentials. Yes, we need His help, but to sit around and
pray for everything in life, without ever making our effort in all areas,
is to misread why the situation happened in the first place.
Prayer is also the confirmation of the Jewish concept of The Almighty as a
personal G-d. Relating to Him should be a daily part of one's life, and not
just reserved for a special occasion or a pressing situation. One doesn't
to be in shul, and it doesn't have to be in Hebrew.
Prayer is talking to G-d. It can be in English, Chinese, Spanish, or
whatever language one feels most comfortable. G-d understands and wants to
hear our prayers. Don't make the mistake of going to synagogue and saying
hello to friends, neighbors and rabbi, and walking out, having forgotten to
say hello to The Creator.
Yet G-d does not need our prayers. He doesn't need anything. He has no
needs; He can only give. No, G-d doesn't need our prayers, but we do.
Through prayer we recognize our Creator and come close to Him. And, being
close to G-d is the ultimate pleasure.
When we pray, we focus on the fact that G-d is our Father, Giver of all. We
ask for whatever we aspire to in life; whatever we need. Nothing is too big,
and nothing is too small. We are not bothering G-d, and we are not using
up His attention.
Rabbi Noah Weinberg once asked someone if they ever prayed. He said,
"Rabbi, I pray every day." "Really," repied Reb Noah. "Did G-d ever answer
your prayers?" "Are you kidding? He answers every prayer!" said the man.
"Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes it's no."
When G-d answers, "No", we should ask ourselves, what is G-d telling me?
What am I to learn from this? What is the message? And keep asking. We
should fill our prayers with praise and thanks for all that G-d gives us,
and ask for things for our own lives, and for the lives of others.
But never forget the lesson of Yaakov. We must also make efforts in our own lives and know that
G-d is there, protecting us, sustaining us, and watching over us with love.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.