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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Sisa: Wrapped in prayer


G'd said to Moses, " you have found favour in My eyes." Moses requested to see G'd's glory. G'd did not just instruct Moses to teach the Jewish people what to pray but also how to conduct themselves when they pray. It is more important for a person to be wrapped in his prayer than in his prayer shawl. A person who is totally absorbed in his prayer will experience a special closeness with G'd. "The heart of a king is in the Hand of G'd." Esther instructed Mordechai to gather all the Jews in prayer and fast for three days. By focusing on prayer, in general, and specifically the Thirteen Attributes of Lovingkindness, we are reminded of G'd's constant watching over us, and that He only does what is good for us.

Moses found favour

In this week's Torah portion it is related how the Jews sinned by worshipping the golden calf. Both before and after Moses came down from Mount Sinai into the camp he prayed to G'd to forgive the Jews for their great sin. G'd answered his prayers and told Moses to lead the Jewish nation on their way to the Promised Land. Moses then requested that G'd should continue to have His Divine presence dwell among the Jews and G'd agreed to that request as well. As it says (Shemos 33:17):"And G'd said to Moses, 'Also this thing you have said I will do, for you have found favour in My eyes "

G'd's glory

As Moses saw that this was a time of favour he decided to ask an additional request and said to G'd (ibid 18) "Please show me Your Glory." The Sforno explains that Moses wanted to understand the full extent of G'd's leading the world and how He influenced every part of the creation with His G'dliness. G'd answered that He would be ready to show Moses whatever a human being may see and prepared him for this very special event.

Order of prayer

The Torah proceeds to relate (ibid 34:5-7) how G'd descended in a cloud, and passed by Moses, and proclaimed the Thirteen Attributes of G'd's Lovingkindness. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 17b) teaches that G'd wrapped Himself as someone leading a congregation in prayer, and showed Moses the order of prayer. G'd said "Every time when the Jews have sinned and they will conduct themselves in this order before Me, I will forgive them." The Maharal (Beer Hagolah 4) explains that G'd did not just instruct Moses to teach the Jewish people what to pray but rather how to conduct themselves when they pray.

Wrapped in prayer

Asks the Maharal, why was it necessary for G'd to show Moses how to conduct oneself at prayer. The Maharal replies that this was in answer to Moses' request to see G'd's Glory. G'd explained that it is impossible for a human being to actually see G'd's Glory. However, when a person attaches himself to the character traits of G'd and gets close to G'd then in a sense G'd brings His Glory close to that person and lets him experience what is humanly possible. This was the significance of G'd showing Moses how to wrap oneself as a leader of a congregation during prayer. G'd instructed Moses to teach us the importance of total focus at the time of prayer, to neither turn to the right or to the left, but to concentrate totally on praying to G'd. The Maharal continues that it is more important for a person to be wrapped in his prayer than in his Talit (prayer shawl). As King David says (Tehillim 102:1) "A prayer of the poor, as he is wrapped and pours out his talk before G'd." Similarly, it says (ibid 107:1-6) "Give thanks to G'd for He is good Says the ones redeemed by G'd hungry and thirsty their souls were wrapped within them as they cried out to G'd in their distress."

Special closeness

Concludes the Maharal, this person who is totally absorbed in his prayer will merit that G'd makes Himself available to him and will experience a special closeness with G'd. These words of the Maharal can be understood on several levels. No doubt there is a deep Kabbalistic insight hidden in his words (see Nefesh Hachaim 2:4). However, we can learn several lessons from what he says on a more simple level as well. First of all it teaches us to concentrate when we pray and not get distracted during prayers. On a deeper level it reinforces our basic belief that G'd is the omnipotent power of everything going on in the universe and with every individual. This is what King David says (ibid 145:18) "G'd is close to all who call upon Him, to all who sincerely call upon Him." This sincerity means that a person senses that he is totally dependent on G'd, and that nobody else in the world has the power to do anything for him without G'd's authorization. He realizes that he can neither turn right to get help by this person nor left to seek salvation from that individual. G'd wants us to live in a natural way and do whatever it takes to provide for ourselves and our family. He expects us to look after our health, and any other need we may have, but we must always remember that after everything is said and done, there is only One Who is in control and has the power to take care of our every need. Everybody else are just messengers authorized by the One above.

Hearts of kings

A few days ago, we celebrated Purim and read the Book of Esther. One of the major lessons that we learn from the story of Purim is how people can be misled to think that they are dependent on their own endeavours and will rather try to find favour with the political leadership than to make sure to fulfill the Will of G'd. In the beginning of the Book of Esther, we are told how King Ahashvarous made a banquet for all of his subjects, and our sages explain how the Jewish lay-leaders disobeyed Mordechai's instructions not to participate in this feast with all its immorality. The lay-leaders told Mordechai, "Rabbi you know how to teach Torah. Let us take care of how to run the politics of the Jewish people." It was common knowledge that Ahashvarous was making this banquet to get acceptance from all of his subjects. As such, the Jewish lay-leaders felt that by not participating it would be a sign of disloyalty to their king, which could endanger the Jewish people. Mordechai was aware of all of this but he knew something else as well. The real danger for the Jewish people is when they show disloyalty to the King of Kings. Human kings are merely puppets in the hands of the Almighty. As King Solomon says, (Mishlei 21:1) "The heart of a king is in the Hand of G'd."

Esther and Mordechai

Shortly after Esther became Queen, King Ahashvarous promoted Haman to the position of prime minister. Haman got mad at Mordechai and got permission to issue a royal decree to destroy the Jewish people. As soon as the decree had been issued, Mordechai instructed Esther that she should immediately approach Ahashvarous, even if it meant endangering her own life due to the rule that required her to wait for the king to summon her. Esther agreed and in turn instructed Mordechai to gather all the Jews in prayer and fast for three days. All this was out of awareness that the only real king to be approached in a time of danger is the King of Kings. The Talmud (Megillah 15b) teaches that one of the reasons Esther invited Ahashvarous and Haman to her party was in order that the Jews should not feel secure and rely on having one of their own, Esther, in such a high position in the palace, but rather turn their concentration and prayers towards G'd. The Talmud further explains that the real danger was only averted when the Jews accepted Mordechai's leadership and followed his instructions to make sure to be loyal to their King and Father above.

Message of Purim

This is the central message of Purim. As the Rambam writes (Introduction to the Summary of the Mishnah Torah) "our sages instituted and instructed us to read the Megillah (Story of Esther) in order to praise G'd and remember how He saved us and He was close to answer our prayers and to teach for generations to come the truth of what we have been promised in the Torah (Devarim 4:7). For who is a great nation that has G'd close to it as is Hashem our G'd whenever we call Him."

Thirteen Attributes

G'd instructed Moses to teach the Jewish people that it is not sufficient that we call out and pray. We must also learn how to focus and concentrate when we are praying. We may ask why is this focus on prayer the way to achieve G'd's forgiveness for our sins? Do we not have to repent and do Teshuva in order to be forgiven? The answer may be that G'd in His great mercy is guiding us how to bring ourselves to repent. Whenever a person sins this is an outcome of forgetting G'd and all the goodness and blessings that He bestows upon every individual. By focusing on prayer, in general, and specifically the Thirteen Attributes of Lovingkindness, we are reminded of G'd's constant watching over us and only doing what is good for us. When a person comes to this realization then he is on the way to repent and get close to G'd. We mention these Thirteen Attributes in our prayers to bring about a constant awareness of G'd and His Lovingkindness towards us.

Purim to Pesach

As we are on the way from Purim to Pesach, days of salvation and freedom, it is a time for us to reflect upon the fact that we only have one source to turn to, both as individuals and as a community. When the Jewish people turned to G'd, in Egypt and later in Shushan (at the time of the Purim story) this was the key to their Divine redemption. May we utilize these days to follow in their footsteps and cry out to G'd and beg Him to send us the final redemption through Mashiach.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel