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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 instruct Moses just 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 to G'd. 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 parasha the Torah relates how the Jewish people sinned and worshipped the golden calf. Both before Moses descended from Mount Sinai and after he entered the camp, Moses prayed and asked 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 let His Divine presence dwell among the Jews, and G'd agreed to that 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

Moses realized that at this point G'd was ready to accommodate him, and he decided to ask for an additional request. He said to G'd (ibid 18) "Please show me Your Glory." The Sforno explains that Moses wanted to understand the full extent of how G'd leads the world, and how His Presence dwells all over. G'd answered that He would be ready to show Moses whatever a human being can comprehend and prepared him for this very special event.

Order of prayer

The Torah proceeds to describe (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." This needs explanation. What is the significance of G'd wrapping Himself? The Maharal (Beer Hagolah 4) explains that G'd did not instruct Moses to just teach the Jewish people what to pray, but also how to conduct themselves when they pray.

Wrapped in prayer

Asks the Maharal, why did G'd 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 deeper 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 prayer and how to pray. Says the Maharal, 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

The Maharal explains that when we pray, we shall neither turn to the right nor to the left, but totally concentrate on praying to G'd. These words 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 simpler 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.

This does not mean that we shall sit back and wait for G'd to look after our needs. 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. The Maharal concludes that someone, who is totally absorbed in his prayer, will merit that G'd makes Himself available to him, and he will experience a special closeness with G'd.

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 how can focus on prayer be 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. When we sin it is an outcome of our forgetting G'd and all the goodness and blessings that He bestows upon us. 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 we come to this realization then we are 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.

Constant need

We constantly need G'd's lovingkindness both as individuals and as a nation. May we be able to internalize this lesson that G'd instructed Moses to teach us, and through this merit all the goodness G'd wants to bestow upon us.

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

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel