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Torah Attitude: Parashas Toldos: Our response to the recession
Rules of commerce and investments have been nullified overnight. What can we do to better our situation? Jacob and his descendants have a special power when they pray to G'd with their voice. In order that the righteous intensify their prayers, G'd puts them in a situation where they lack something important to them. Man connects directly with G'd through prayer and this has tremendous benefits for the one who prays. Through the prayers of the righteous G'd changes His conduct from anger to mercy. When the righteous pray, it opens the Heavenly floodgates and brings down an abundance of blessing to all those who are in need. Our prayers also become more powerful when we have others in mind when we pray. Tehillim 23 has a special connection with providing sustenance. G'd never neglects the prayer of the multitudes.
The world is in a major financial crisis. We are entering into a period of global recession that affects every person worldwide. Thousands of companies and stores are closing down all over and countless numbers of employees have been laid-off or are in danger of losing their jobs. In addition, countless numbers of investors have lost their savings. We are all affected in one way or another. It is incredible to watch how all rules of commerce and investments have been nullified overnight. Whatever was taught in universities and business schools is suddenly useless. It is as if G'd is sending the entire world a message, as expressed thousands of years ago by the Prophet Chagai (2:8): "The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says G'd." Whoever felt secure due to their large portfolio, and relied on their solid investments, now realize what it says in the Talmud (Sotah 49b): "And on what can we rely but our Father in Heaven."
What can we do to better our situation? Obviously, everyone affected has to adjust their standard of living. As a community, we have to look out for the ones who have lost their jobs or who otherwise are in need of financial assistance. We all have to try to give or find jobs for those who are now unemployed. But not everyone is in a position to help in these ways.
Voice of Jacob
There is one thing that everyone can do. In this week's Parsha, our Patriarch Isaac expresses (Bereishis 27:22): "The voice is the voice of Jacob." Ever since then Jacob and his descendants have a special power when they pray to G'd with their voice (see Gittin 57b). Already before that it was well known that if a person was in need of something there was one address to turn to. This is what the Rambam establishes in the 5th Principle of Faith; there is no one to turn to but G'd. We therefore pray to Him for all our needs.
Isaac and Rivkah childless
In the beginning of this week's Parsha, the Torah relates how Isaac and Rivkah were childless for many years. They both turned to prayer and entreated G'd to bless them with children. The Torah tells us this to encourage us to emulate them. For we all have the ability to approach G'd directly and entreat Him to provide us and our fellow beings with our daily needs. However, the Talmud (Yevamos 64a) discusses why G'd brought about that Isaac and Rivkah, as well as our other Patriarchs and Matriarchs, all were childless for extended periods. The Talmud explains that G'd is longing for the prayers of the righteous. In order that they intensify their prayers, G'd puts them in a situation where they lack something important to them.
Connect directly with G'd
Obviously, G'd does not need our prayers, but right from the beginning of Creation, He established that man should have what to pray for. As it says (Bereishis 2:5): "And all the grass of the field had not yet grown, for HASHEM, G'd, had not let it rain on the earth and there was no man to work the soil." Rashi explains that the reason why G'd had not let it rain was because man had no yet been created to appreciate it. Only once man was created and understood that there was a need for irrigation and prayed for rain, did G'd provide the rain. Through prayer man connects directly with G'd and this has tremendous benefits for the one who prays. However the obvious question arises: why would G'd let someone so righteous suffer in order to get them to pray? No doubt they already feel connected to G'd.
Anger to mercy
We might clarify this with another statement of the Talmud. The Talmud continues that through the prayers of the righteous G'd changes His conduct from anger to mercy. But this also seems strange. Why would G'd be angry with the righteous, that He needs to change His conduct from anger to mercy? Neither anger nor mercy seems to be applicable when G'd deals with the righteous. Do not the righteous deserve to be blessed with their every need in the merit of their righteousness?
Righteous open floodgates
The Zohar on this week's portion (137b) also discusses the concept of G'd's longing for the prayers of the righteous. But the Zohar reveals an aspect that is not mentioned in the Talmud. The Zohar says that when the righteous pray it opens the Heavenly floodgates and brings down an abundance of blessing to all those who are in need. We find an example of this when Sarah gave birth to Isaac. It says (Bereishis 21:6): "And Sarah said, 'G'd has provided me with happiness. Whoever hears will rejoice with me.'" Rashi quotes the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 53:8) that explains that many childless women merited to give birth as the same time as Sarah. Many sick people were healed, and many prayers were answered, and this was what brought about a general atmosphere of joy. Plenty of people cause G'd to get angry as they conduct themselves in an immoral and corrupt way. When these people pray to G'd they do not deserve to be answered. But G'd in His great mercy takes pity on these people and brings about that the righteous are also in need, and in the merit of their prayers G'd provides many others with their various needs.
Prayers in plural
The Talmud (Berachos 32b) teaches that prayer is one of the things that need constant improvement. In this time of crisis, we must utilize our difficult situation to focus more on our prayers, especially the ninth blessing of the Shemona Esrei where we ask for Divine blessing with our livelihood. We can all pray with more sincerity and increase our prayers. Our prayers also become more powerful when we have others in mind when we pray. As a matter of fact, most of the prayers in the Siddur are in plural.
Many people have the custom to say chapters from Tehillim on a daily basis. The Kabbalists teach that Tehillim 23 has a special connection with providing sustenance. They point out that it contains 57 words which is the numerical value of the Hebrew word "zon", meaning "to nourish", as we say in the first blessing of Birchat Hamazon (Grace After Meals). They further mentioned that there are 227 letters in this Tehillim which is the numerical value of the Hebrew word "bracha" meaning blessing. Many people have the practice of saying this Tehillim at the time that they eat their daily meals. This is a very meaningful prayer said by King David, and is a very powerful tool that does not take much time. The Birchat Hamazon that we say after eating bread are the only blessings that we are obligated to say by Torah law. All other blessings were instituted by the Rabbis of the Talmud. It goes without saying that it is important to say these blessings, where we thank and pray for our food as well as other necessities, with utmost sincerity.
Prayer of the multitudes
The Talmud (Kiddushin 82a) teaches: "A person shall pray to the One Who owns all the wealth and assets, for there is no trade where there is not both poverty and affluence. For neither poverty depends on the trade, nor wealth depends on the trade. Rather, everything depends on a person's merits." In these trying times, let us all unite and utilize our power of prayer. As individuals, our power is limited. But as the Talmud (Berachos 8a) teaches, G'd never neglects the prayer of the multitudes. May we merit to see that our combined prayers shall turn G'd's conduct of anger to an conduct of mercy.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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