Why Are You Praying?

In this week’s Torah reading, the Jews were running away from the Egyptians who were pursuing them. But then, they reached a point where they were stuck. The Yam Suf (Red Sea) was in front of them, and they had no way to escape. The Jews cried out to God in prayer to save them, and God’s response to Moshe (Moses) was, as the verse says (Shemot 14:15), “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Nation to continue going.” Indeed, the Jews leaped into the sea, and the water miraculously split, enabling them to forge ahead and escape from the Egyptians.

Isn’t Prayer What God Wants?

The obvious question is, why did God say, “Why are you crying out to me?” What else were they supposed to do? Isn’t praying what a Jew should do when he is in trouble? The Ohr Hachaim addresses this question, and gives a fascinating answer. He says that praying wouldn’t have helped them at that time. At that point, there was a serious judgement weighing against the Jews, in Heaven. The Jews had sinned in Egypt, and were not worthy of a miracle to save them. The allegations against them in the Heavenly Court were so severe that even prayer couldn’t help them. Despite the fact that God wanted to save them, there is a justice system in Heaven which prevented them from meriting a miracle to save them.

There was only one solution. There was only one way that the Jews could cause the Heavenly Mercy to overpower the opposing adversary. And that was exercising bitachon (putting their reliance on God to save them) into action. This is what God was telling them. Now there is no point in praying because it cannot help. In order to be saved, they needed to forge ahead into the sea to exercise bitachon (reliance on God) in order to be saved. By putting their trust in God into action by going into the Yam Suf, with total reliance on God that He would save them, they were able to merit salvation.

Active Reliance on God – When Prayer is Not Enough

Certainly, prayer is very powerful, and we should always revert to prayer in a time of trouble. But there is another powerful force we have in our arsenal – bitachon . Not just bitachon, but putting the bitachon into action. There are times when prayer is not sufficient to bring us salvation. But when we exercise bitachon, not just intellectually, but we go ahead with our trust in God and act in a way which demonstrates our reliance, we have a far greater merit to come to our aid. This kind of bitachon is so powerful, that even if we are not deserving of salvation, the bitachon arouses God’s compassion which overcomes all adversaries that oppose us.

The Midrash (Midrash Tehillim, 25:5) explains this concept with a parable: A man was wandering out at night in a place he shouldn’t be. He was caught by the police, and they arrested him and were about to flog him. The man protested and said, “Please leave me alone, the king is my relative!”

In the morning, the police informed the king that they had found a family member of his and the man was brought to the king. When the king saw him, he asked him, “Do you know me?” “No.” responded the man. “If so,” asked the king, “why do you claim to be my relative?” “Please help me,” pleaded the man, “It is true that I am not your relative. But had I not claimed so, the guards would have beaten me. I relied on your benevolence to save me.” The king did not let him down and said, “Because this man put his trust in me, leave him alone.” So too, says the Midrash, King David said to God that anyone who relies on God to save him, will be saved, just because of their reliance on Him.

I Needed to Travel, and I Relied on God!

Rabbi Aharon Kotler was waiting in line at the counter to purchase a bus ticket. Just as he was nearing the front of the line, a person he knew came over to him to exchange pleasantries. Rabbi Kotler immediately asked him if he was able to lend him some money to purchase the ticket he needed. The man graciously agreed, and asked him, “I don’t understand. If you didn’t have the necessary funds to purchase the ticket, why were you standing in line in the first place?” Rabbi Kotler replied, “I needed to travel, and I relied on God that He would somehow provide me with the funds. I was actually about to step out of line since it was almost my turn and I didn’t have the money. And that’s exactly when you came and lent me the money.”

Relying on God to come to our aid is not always easy. And even when we succeed to do so on an intellectual level, it’s not enough. We need to take a “leap of faith,” and put bitachon into action. Showing God that we are truly counting on His help arouses God’s compassion. Expressing our reliance on God in action can merit us salvation even when we are undeserving of it.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber torah4every1@gmail.com

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