The Power Of Prayer
"And Moshe sent emissaries from Kadesh to the king of
Moshe sends a delegation to the king of Edom requesting
permission to pass through his country. He instructs his emissaries to
relate the Jews' experience in Egypt to the king. The Torah records that one
of the statements which was made to the king was "vanitz'ak el Hashem
vayishma koleinu" - "and we cried out to Hashem and He heard our voice."
From the fact that the verse states that Hashem heard our voice, rather than
our cries, Rashi interprets that Moshe is sending a warning to Edom that we
have the legacy of our Patriarchal blessing received from Yitzchak, "hakol
kol Yaakov", the power of the voice of Torah; Bnei Yisroel are infused with
the blessing that when we pray, we are answered.
The king of Edom responds by saying that he will come out with sword in hand
if Bnei Yisroel attempt to traverse his land. Rashi again comments that
through his words the king of Edom is invoking the Patriarchal legacy which
was conferred upon Eisav, the father of Edom, "by the sword you shall live."
Moshe must have been aware that just as Bnei Yisroel have the power of
prayer to facilitate their success, the Edomites have the power of war. Why
does Moshe assume that Bnei Yisroel's Patriarchal legacy is superior?
The key to solving this dilemma lies in Rashi's comment on the preceding
verse. The emissaries relate "and with us the Egyptians dealt evilly and
with our fathers." The construct of the verse appears convoluted. Why
does the verse not simply state that "the Egyptians dealt evilly with us and
our fathers"? Rashi explains that the verse is stressing the notion that the
affliction suffered by our fathers is a byproduct of our affliction. The
"fathers" referred to in the verse are not our biological fathers who
endured the servitude in Egypt with us, rather our Patriarchal Fathers who,
although they were not present with us in Egypt, suffered our pain.
Why is it necessary for Moshe to allude to this concept in his message to
the king of Edom? The power of prayer which Bnei Yisroel have rests not only
in our capacity to extricate ourselves from our own predicament, but also in
our ability to relieve our Patriarchs of the distress caused to them by our
situation. It is this ability which motivates Hashem to answer our prayers,
not only in our merit, but in the merit of our Forefathers as well. The
ability with which Edom is imbued benefits only them, and not their
forefathers. Their forefathers do not feel the distress of the later
generations, for they do not enjoy a closeness to them as do the Forefathers
of Bnei Yisroel to the Jewish nation.
"And Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock..." (20:11)
The Talmud relates that after Miriam died, the well, which was
a water source for Bnei Yisroel in the desert, disappeared. Hashem
commanded Moshe to bring forth water from a rock. The Torah records that
Moshe and Aharon sinned. However, the exact nature of the sin is not
specified in the verses. Rashi understands that Moshe's sin was a result of
striking the rock to bring forth water rather than communicating with it.
The Ramban questions Rashi's approach, for Hashem instructed Moshe to take
the staff from the Holy of Holies and bring it with him. If Hashem had not
intended for Moshe to strike the rock, why had He commanded Moshe to bring
the staff along with him?
The Maharsha points out an apparent contradiction between two Talmudic
statements: The Talmud in Tractate Ta'anis relates that the well, the source
of water for the entire Bnei Yisroel, was in the merit of the prophetess
Miriam. However, the Talmud in Tractate Bava Metzia relates that since
Avraham Avinu supplied the angels with water, his descendants had water in
the desert. Was the well in the merit of Avraham or Miriam?
The Talmud states that the merits of an individual help for the needs of
that individual. However, an environmental change that will benefit the
needs of many can only be achieved through the merits of the entire
community. An individual is generally concerned with his own short-term
needs and of those close to him, while the responsibility and concern for
long-term needs is borne by the community. A community, by nature, is an
ongoing perpetual entity and therefore, it has the responsibility to ensure
that not only its short-term needs are met, but, to whatever extent
possible, that all of its future members' needs will be met as well.
Consequently, all matters that might have long-term societal implications
such as ecological and environmental issues must be addressed on a communal
level, and then filtered down to the individuals. For a miracle to occur
which would create a long-term environmental change, Bnei Yisroel had to ask
as a community.
Once the well of Miriam was no longer available in the desert, the
individual was concerned with his immediate need for water. Hashem
instructed Moshe to give over the message to Bnei Yisroel that they should
not request water to satiate only their individual needs, rather that their
concern should be on a communal level, for this would ensure the
availability of a long-term reservoir that would serve as a perpetual source
of water. The staff symbolizes leadership, as we find in the blessing to
Yehuda "the staff will not depart from Yehuda." Moshe was not instructed
to bring along the staff in order to strike the rock, rather as a
representation of his leadership, for as leader he would herald the energies
of the entire community, bringing them together to request a perpetual water
In Avraham's merit the needs of the individual were met. What Miriam's
merit accomplished was that Bnei Yisroel would have a perpetual source of
water for the ongoing community. The Talmud refers to this quality of Miriam
an "parnes", a person who ensures that all of the needs of the entire
community are met.
6.86b, See Maharsha
8.Ibid., See Rashi