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Derasha Parshat Beshalach

01/30/2024 12:00:00 AM


Exchanges in the Talmud can sound eerily contemporary.  There is an exchange between R’ Eliezer and his students over people who Daven for too long or too short.  When the students complain about the person who Davens too long, R’ Eliezer responds, “he doesn’t Daven longer than Moshe Rabenu, who Davened for 40 days.”    

Then the students complain about a different person who Davens too short.  [This is a rare complaint but we’ll go with it.]  R’ Eliezer again points out that Moshe Rabenu also Davened very short, citing the instance in which Moshe sought healing for his sister Miriam in five words.

In the crucial moment of this week’s Parasha, with the Jews are pinned down next to the sea, there are multiple opinions about what to do.  All of them are wrong.  But Moshe is Davening, which seems to be the safest thing to do.  Hashem’s reaction is, “Mah Titzak Elai [why are you crying out to me]?”  

Hashem tells him to stop Davening,  But it was not the act itself that was wrong.  Rather, the type of Davening was off.  R’ Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, explained this with a distinction between long and short Davening.  This explains the scenes of  R’ Eliezer and his students and it explains the difference of opinion here between Moshe and Hashem.      

A long Davening means that one is trying to effect a change either in oneself or in someone else.  This is the 40 days of Davening.  All of the units of 40 -- days or weeks -- are to change something profoundly.  In weeks, that’s how long a mother gestates as the fetus grows into something viable.  In days, that’s Moshe Rabbenu trying to change the way Klal Yisrael is viewed after the sin of the Golden Calf.  Such a Tefilla takes time to sink in and to effect a real change in one’s insides.  Whole orientations are shifting, whole thought patterns are being scrambled and rearranged.  

But there is another Tefilla, which comes after one has shaped one’s inner self.  Even after one has developed one’s inner orientation, there is still a need for an act of Tefilla to bring them out.  This is not a long act of Tefilla, however.  These feelings and values are inchoate, but they exist.  They need to be spoken out to become manifest.  This is what Davening usually is -- a reviewing of values which are already known to us, already deeply implanted in us.  What we are trying to do is to sharpen them in consciousness, and to raise them in our awareness.  

This is the Davening we do every day.  The subjects of the blessings of the Amida are not controversial.  There are the touchstones of Jewish life.  We Daven for knowledge, for Teshuva [repentance], for salvation, and health and prosperity.  We Daven for our restoration to Eretz Yisrael and for the rebuilding of our national home into something that can house us in Messianic times.  That’s the Amida.  Some of it sounds political but only to those who fear it or want to stymie it.    

When we Daven, we are returning to these themes over and over in order to make sure that they remain in consciousness.  

At the sea, Moshe Rabbenu hears the words of those who want to go back to Egypt and he wonders if there needs to be a profound change here.  He chooses to Daven a long Amida.  But Hashem tells him that that is not what is needed here.  He has misheard them.  They have redemption on their minds already; these values are already implanted.  What is needed here is a Davening that calls that back to consciousness.  Don’t Daven long here, Hashem says, just go.

The war of independence in 1948 went on much longer than any other war.  There were ceasefires but, overall, it took nine months before there was an armistice.  It was nine months, the time for gestation.  A new state was being born and we had to change into a nation that had a home.  This meant the challenges of sovereignty, the challenges of political and military power.  These are in fact still issues, but the change from 1945 was profound.  To be addressing these issues was impossible to contemplate just a few years before.

This war is into its fourth month.  Apprently, we are also being called upon to Daven a long Davening.  It takes a constant vigilance.  I came into Davening on Wednesday and found someone who had been here for a while.  He was in the middle of Tehillim.  

We have to be fit for the aftermath of this war.  We have to transcend the petty fighting that came before, we have to see each other as full human beings again, as all part of a Klal Yisrael trying to figure out this massive challenge.  If we can become fit, we will see a wonderful aftermath, Bimheira Viyameinu.   

Sun, April 14 2024 6 Nisan 5784