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Rabbi Yosef Levinson
"And they were very frightened and Bnei Yisroel cried out to Hashem." (Shemos 14:10)
Rashi comments that by crying out in prayer, the Bnei Yisroel were adopting the midda (trait) of their forefathers. For we find that each of the Avos davened (prayed) to Hashem. Whilst this is an interesting observation, it appears to add little to our understanding of the passuk. Rashi's aim is to explain the simple meaning of the pesukim.
HaRav Yerucham Levovitz zt'l, Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva writes that we can gain insight into what Rashi wishes to convey from the following mashal (parable) related in the Midrash (Shemos Rabba, 21). A princess was being abducted by a band of highway robbers. At that moment, the princess saw a king's coach riding nearby. "Please, save me from these bandits", she cried out. The king heard her cry, rescued her and incarcerated her abductors. In time, the king requested the princess's hand in marriage, but she refused to speak to him. So he released the robbers from jail to scare her in the hope that she would cry out again. Sure enough, at the mere sight of these rogues, the princess called out. Immediately the king interceded and said: "All I wanted was to hear your voice again."
The princess is the Jewish people, and the king is Hashem. Through the pain and suffering of Egyptian servitude, we cried out to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. He answered our prayers and saved us with His mighty hand. Hashem then wanted to hear our tefillos again, however we were complacent. So He re-awakened the Bnei Yisroel with fear by causing the Egyptians to chase after us. With no chance for escape and the Egyptians fast approaching, the Jewish nation called out to the Ribbono Shel Olam. This is the midda of our people. When we are under attack or ill, rachmana l'tzlan, we pour out our hearts to Hashem. How does He know that under duress we will call out to Him? From where does this trait emanate? This, says Reb Yerucham, is what Rashi is explaining. The Avos excelled in tefilla and it is from them that we inherited this trait. Even when we distance ourselves from HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and we don't call out to Him, this midda lies dormant. When misfortune befalls us, then we grasp this midda of putting our trust in Him and cry out to be saved.
There was once a large fire in the town of Mir. Despite the best efforts of the fire fighters, the fire raged on. There was one Jew who had left the fold and was a non-believer. Yet, when he saw his town being destroyed he called out: "Woe, if only the Ribbono Shel Olam would extinguish the fire, if only Hashem would bring a downpour." Reb Yerucham commented that even though this Jew was a non- believer his entire life, when he saw that there was no other salvation, it awakened this midda that the Avos implanted within us to realize that only He could save us. The other nations have a different midda, 'eileh va-rechov v'a'eileh ba susim' - some rely on chariots and some on horses - 'va'anachnu bsheim Hashem Elokeinu Nazkir' - but we call out in the Name of Hashem our G-d. Tefilla is what our forefathers bequeathed to us.
The above Midrash also clarifies a common misconception concerning prayer. One might think that tefilla is merely a response to suffering. But, as the mashal demonstrates, Hashem actually causes the suffering to stir us to daven. As the Midrash concludes, Hashem brings anguish because He desires our tefillos.
What is so special about tefilla? - Hashem yearns to be close to us. Were we to remember "shivisi Hashem l'negdi tamid "- we are always in the presence of Hashem - we could do no wrong. But all too often we fail to acknowledge this powerful truth. If, whilst praying, one would realize that he is standing in front of Hashem, and that he is talking to the Ribbono Shel Olam, this would have a tremendous impact on the rest of his day. This is why Hashem desires our tefillos. If we do not avail ourselves of the opportunity to call out to Him, then it may become necessary for Hashem to 'call' us with a painful message.
Let us instead emulate the ways of the Avos and draw ourselves closer to Hashem through prayer so that there will be no need for suffering.
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