Thursday, January 09, 2014

Expression of Jewish Instinct

A week after their flight to safety, Jews fleeing Egypt felt a sudden fright. Suddenly they saw a mighty, rumbling army in fearsome array, rapidly advancing in pursuit after them.

Torah testifies (Ex.14:10):
 "וייראו מאד ויצעקו בני ישראל אל יהוה"

The Jews were trapped in a beach enclave with no flank to escape to, caught between the desert and the sea. These were dreadful moments. King Pharoah himself, in armored chariot, led the charge. The mighty empire's army, a juggernaut excited for victory, kicked up dust as they charged forward.

Jews acted on instinct; They turned to God. Out of fright, their prayers issued forth as screams from the pit of their hearts.

The unique context of their present situation gave these prayers its vocal character. Jews always prayed to God, but any other time of day or day of the week, they would have evoked a different sort of prayer. This special situation they found themselves in is what now cast their form of invocation.

(Only after they saw their prayers go unanswered they turned on Moses to complain.)

Prayer to G-d comes natural for the Jew. Abraham, Isaac and Yaakov worked hard on this form of worship, so much so that this inculcation projected and bequeathed a congenital instinct to their children. They prayed - not because they elected for something in particular this one time, but rather because prayer of the Jew connects him to God! Prayer is the vehicle by which the Jew bonds to G-d. He prays every day, year in year out.

It's not so much a Jew wants something for himself when he prays. Rather, the Jew wants to bond with Hashem. Yes, the Jew asks for personal and selfish concerns too, but all the while he rates his personal desires less than primary. Worship of Hashem is what is paramount in a Jew's life.

The Torah is quite specific; "They were frightful, so they screamed." Any other moment of the day their prayers would have manifest differently, but pray - they always would.

But why pray now - with the Egyptian army ready to steamroll them; If they trusted God will spare them, again, there was no need for prayer now; And if they held doubts about God's salvation, then what good would prayers do?

Rashi explains (Ex.14:10): Because Jews always first prayed to God - for anything - because they worshipped God and always wanted to cleave to Him. Any other day, it could have been in quiet earnestness, but at this point in time - they cried out.

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