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The Power of TefillahAnd Pharaoh drew close. (Shemos 14:10)
What did Pharaoh bring close? [The Hebrew word הקריב literally means to draw something or someone close, not to come closer oneself.] He brought Israel close [to their Father in Heaven] by prompting them to do teshuvah...
R. Berechyah said: "The drawing close [to the Almighty] that Pharaoh engendered among Israel was more effective than a hundred fasts and prayers. Why? Because when the Jewish People saw the Egyptians pursuing them and getting closer, they were overcome with fear. As a result, they raised their eyes Heavenward, did teshuvah, and prayed, as it says: 'And the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem' [Shemos 14:10]... When Israel saw that they were completely surrounded - with the sea in front of them, wild animals on both sides, and the enemy chasing them from behind - they raised their eyes to their Father in Heaven and cried out to Him... Why did He do this to them? Because He longed for their prayers."
R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: "This is similar to a king who was traveling on a journey. As he went upon his way, a princess suddenly called out to him, 'Please, I beg of you, save me from these bandits.' The king hearkened to her cry and rescued her. Sometime later, the king sought to marry the princess. He longed to hear her voice again, but she refused to speak to him. What did he do? He sent several of his guardsmen after her so that she would call for help. As soon as the 'bandits' attacked her, she cried out to the king to save her. The king then said to her, 'That is what I sought, to hear your voice.'"
"So too with Israel. When they were enslaved in Egypt, they began to cry out and they raised their eyes to God...
'and Hashem saw [the affliction of] the Children of Israel' [Shemos 2:25], and He began taking them out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He then sought to hear their voice again, but they didn't want [to speak to Him.] What did He do? He sent Pharaoh to pursue them, as it says: 'And Pharaoh drew close...' And immediately, 'the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem. ' At that time, the Almighty exclaimed, 'That is what I sought, to hear your voice...'"
The following is from Yalkut Lekach Tov, vol. 2, p. 91, which cites the pamphlet Ma'alos Ha-Tefillah.
R. Yechezkel Levenstein extracts an important principle from this Midrash. People often regard prayer as merely a means to counter personal difficulty and misfortune. If nothing bad occurs, there is no need to daven. According to this outlook, the need to pray is a result of suffering that comes upon a person, and only a person in difficult straits needs to daven. This Midrash teaches us that in fact just the opposite is true. Prayer has a purpose in its own right, which directly affects the existence of the world and draws the person who is praying closer to the Almighty. The more one contemplates the deeper meanings within the prayers and absorbs them into his being, the more one will be able to recognize the chesed that the Creator continually bestows upon him. So important is prayer that the Gemara declares: "If only a person could daven the whole day!"(Berachos 21a). However, when a person views prayer lightly and forgets his Maker, then tragedies start befalling him in order to wake him up. We thus see that prayer is not a way to rid ourselves of troubles, but that troubles are the means Hashem uses to get us to daven, for He thirsts for our prayers.
This is the parable that Chazal employ in the above Midrash, that when the king desired to hear the voice of the princess, he sent a (mock) gang of bandits to attack her, thus causing her to turn her attention to him.
Out of the Straits I Cried unto God
And Pharaoh drew close... and behold! Egypt was traveling after them, and they were very afraid. And the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem. (Shemos 14:10)
The following is based on Da'as Torah by R. Yerucham Levovitz vol. 2, parashas Beshalach.
Rashi, quoting a Midrash from the Mechilta, comments that the Jews followed the example (lit., "grasped the craft") of their forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, who all davened. This cryptic Mid rash raises several questions. Why did Chazal inform us here that the Patriarchs davened? Furthermore, what was the point of stating that the Children of Israel took up their forefathers' craft?
Addressing these questions, R. Yerucham Levovitz comments that he often thought about the terrible prospects facing the Jewish People in his time. In those days immediately preceding World War II, most of the world's nations, and particularly Germany and Russia, were openly campaigning to deny Jews the most basic human rights, and absolutely no one raised a voice in protest. It was a time of grave adversity for the Jews. There was no one to turn to, and all avenues of escape seemed blocked. All hope seemed lost. Rav Yerucham writes:
In despair, I thought to myself, "Why are we not crying out? Is there truly no one to turn to in the entire world?" When I found myself saying this, I stopped and thought, "And before this did we have someone else to beseech? Even when fortune was shining on us and times were good, was there anyone to rely on? In reality, there is no difference between good times or bad times, and all we have is Hashem. 'Out of the straits I cried unto God' (Tehillim 118:5). There is no one else to turn to, no one else to cry out to."
Upon pondering all this, I understood the meaning of Rashi's comment: "They grasped the craft of their forefathers." Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov lived in relatively peaceful times. Yet their prayers were filled with the tears of one experiencing great suffering. They understood that it doesn't matter what the times are like and that the only one they could depend upon was the Almighty. Therefore, their prayers were the paradigm of complete devotion and attachment to Hashem.
This is the secret of the Jewish People. We are constantly in a situation of "Out of distress I cried unto God." We never had anyone to rely on but the Creator. The nations of the world have been placed under the control of natural law, as the verse states: "the sun, the moon, and the stars... Hashem has apportioned to all the peoples under all the heavens" (Devarim 4:19). They have somewhere to turn to and something to rely on. "These with chariots and those with horses; but we, in the name of Hashem, our God, call out" (Tehillim 20:8). The nations have armies and they have fostered channels of diplomacy. This is the portion that was granted to them. We, however, have nothing, and for us there is no such thing as nature. The whole being of Israel transcends the laws of nature. For us, therefore, there is no difference between situations of comfort or of trouble. That is the secret of prayer: to understand that there is nothing else but the Almighty.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network