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KD MAGAZINE! 
Posted:
Friday, December 8, 2006 - י"ז כסלו, תשס"ז

 
 
 
   
 

The Torah portion of Vayishlach
Rabbi Yossi Gorodetsky
About the Author

As we know, prayer is a fundamental part of a Jews life. In this weeks Torah portion we find the origin of our prayers as well as the importance and how we can apply it in our daily lives. 

Once on a plane to Israel a Rabbi shared his row with an Israeli Jew. Of course, their conversation was about Israeli politics. The Israeli Jew was quick to offer his solution to the trouble in the Middle East. The Rabbi listened patiently but when the man finished his lesson the Rabbi quickly proved that all of his ideas and solutions had already been tried and had failed! Immediately the man offered a new solution. Again the Rabbi proved that the new solution wasn’t practical either. So the man tried again. This time the Rabbi simply smiled and said nothing. Flustered, the man said, “Well, do you have a better solution? Tell me, what is your answer?” 

The Rabbi responded with a story:

"A religious man once needed a lung transplant. Before the transplant the man and his wife visited many doctors to show them the x-rays and ask their opinion on the matter, because this is a very dangerous operation. One of the doctors they visited was a religious Jew who was an expert in this field. They sat silently in his office as the doctor pored over their file. He studied the x-rays and the reports of other doctors. 

"When he finally lifted his eyes from the papers he said to them, 'In this situation your only hope is the transplant.' 

"Hearing these words the man asked the doctor, 'Is there any medicine I can take until I receive my new lungs?' 

“Yes there is,' the doctor replied.

"The man’s wife became excited, for all the other doctors had assured them that there was nothing to do but wait! 

'What is this medicine called!' she almost shouted at the doctor.

"The doctor replied, 'The medicine is called Tehilim. You are believers, so pray. That is the only medicine that can help you until the operation.' " 

The Rabbi turned to the Israeli man and said, “This is also the only solution for the present situation in Israel. A little Tehilim, a bit of prayer wouldn't hurt. It would certainly help us!” 

Now, where did the concept of prayer originate? We Jews got basically everything from our Patriarchs so let's think for a moment which of them could have initiated prayer. 

Abraham embodied the attribute of kindness. Abraham bequeathed to all of his descendants the attribute of kindness. Kindness includes hospitality, visiting the sick, charity, and all the other fine things that Jews are always so busy with. 

Isaac embodied the attribute of Severity. In practical terms this means sacrifice. The Jew is able to sacrifice things that are important to him for the sake of his belief. We inherit this ability from Isaac, who allowed himself to be bound upon the altar without uttering a sound. He effectively gave his life for G-d without having heard the commandment himself. In fact offering his body as a sacrifice to G-d wasn't even considered a test for Isaac, though it was the greatest test for Abraham, for sacrifice was the essence of his being. 

In our personal lives we show this sacrifice too. It comes on the form of sacrificing our mundane pleasures for the sake of a mitzvah. For example to come to shul and pray instead of watching the ball game is a sacrifice. Even not eating non-kosher meat, or giving of our hard earned money to tzedakah instead of buying something nice for ourselves also takes a certain level of sacrifice or severity. 

Jacob was the attribute of mercy. We are all familiar with the concept of 'praying for mercy'. Here is where prayer comes in. Jacob gave us the 'gift of prayer'. True, our sages say that Abraham established the Morning Prayer and Isaac established the Afternoon Prayer but this is not written explicitly in the Torah. In scripture, Jacob is the first to say a prayer for his own personal needs. 

Let's analyze the structure of Jacob's prayer. First of all he mentions his ancestors, "G-d of my father Abraham and G-d of my father Isaac", like we do at the beginning of the Amida, only we mention Jacob too. 

When one knocks on the gates of heaven he must present his I.D. - that he is a son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The next stage in Jacob's prayer was praise and thanks. Jacob praised and thanked G-d for all of the good He had done for him. He particularly did so in a detailed way. Not just "thanks for everything". Jacob said, "I have become small from all the kindnesses: for it was only with my staff that I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps." 

When we pray we should think about all of the good that G-d has done with us. 

Think where you were fifteen, twenty years ago and where you are now. 

Perhaps, fifteen years ago you were a kid straight out of college, with no money, no job and no house. The only thing you did have was a huge debt from your tuition. But now G-d has given you a house and a job- 'two camps'. 

The third and main stage in prayer is the requests. Jacob turns to G-d and in clear simple terms he asks, "Deliver me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him." Jacob wasn't ashamed to tell G-d that he was scared. 

Prayer is a time to be completely honest with G-d and with oneself. He should pray about the things that truly cause him distress. 

Finally Jacob says to G-d: "And You said, 'I will surely do good with you.'" What is the meaning of these words? Jacob says to G-d, "Even if I do not deserve a miracle, please do this on account of the promise You made to Abraham that you would cause his descendants to be as many as the stars and sand." 

In keeping with Jacob's example we finish our prayers with the words, "Do it for the sake of Your name. Do it for the sake of Your right hand. Do it for the sake of Your Torah. Do it for the sake of Your Holiness." Even if we ourselves are not deserving of Your favor do it in keeping with Your promise that the Jewish nation will never disappear. 

This wonderful gift - the ability to pray for our needs - was bequeathed to us and to Jews of every generation from our father Jacob. Prayer has been the Jewish people's source of strength and hope through the hardest of times. And no one is a better example of this than Jacob whose life was one continuous chain of tragedies. We Jews have always prayed and kept the faith that with G-d's help everything would turn out alright. 

Have a wonderful Shabbos.


Read more articles by Rabbi Gorodetsky

 

 
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