Awake from the slumber of habit

Awake from the slumber of habit

By Rabbi Y. R Rubin Shlita

It just seems to be getting worse. Every day we are deluged with horrific reports of fresh wounds to the soul of the Yiddisher nation. Gedolei Torah are being taken from us, a young Jewish neshoma is killed on the roads in America. Then, this week, the knife was turned in each of our hearts just that much more. A Yiddisher mamma, who was also a nurse, was stabbed to death in Eretz Yisroel by a murderous fiend who sought to just kill Jews. This was done in front of her children!

The pen runs dry, the tears well up, the sky darkens and the Heavens weep. The Nation of the Torah wallows in pain, and we feel at a loss about what we can do.

Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen points out in this week’s parsha that we learn that at the edge of the Yam Suf “Pharaoh approached; the Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold – Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem. They said to Moshe, ‘were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the desert’?!”

 Rashi explains on this phrase – And they cried out: “They grasped the craft of their fathers; With regards to Avrohom it says ‘to the place where he stood there’; with regards to Yitzchok it says, ‘to speak in the field’; with regards to Yaakov, it says, ‘and he met in that place’.”

The Torah is telling us that when Klal Yisroel beheld the fearsome sight of the Egyptian army approaching they cried out to Hashem. Rashi is explaining that they cried out in the tradition of our Avos, which would seem to be a praiseworthy deed in that they learnt from their holy forefathers the power of tefillah. However, in the very next passage we are told that they complained to Moshe that he brought them to die in this dire desert. This seems to indicate that they were not acting on such a high level after all.

This poses the question as to how in one instant our great righteousness in tefillah is shown and in the very next moment our iniquity. The Maharal answers by interpreting Rashi’s explanation- that they grasped the craft of the Avos- in an alternative way. He writes that Rashi doesn’t mean to praise the Yidden for turning to tefillah. Rather, he is telling us that they davened because that’s what the Avos did. In other words: they davened out of habit. Thus, when the Torah tells us that they cried out to Hashem, it is not saying that they reached a high spiritual level. Accordingly, it is now easy to understand how in the very next passage they acted in an unbecoming manner.

Hashem knows how broken and weak we are, yet his love transcends our weaknesses.

The Maharal reveals here a very vital truth about tefillah. In the course of our daily lives, it’s all too easy to negotiate the siddur by way of habit.  Regrettable as it seems, it’s understandable. After all, we are davening from the same text, day in day out. The human ability to focus is fragile, especially in these times of overstimulation. So the words tend to roll off the tongue with no real thought.

In this case, the Maharal is referring to those tefillos we say when a person is in great need. He is telling us that even in this situation, these kinds of prayers can be affected by habit. This means that one can daven in times of need just because that is what he was brought up to do and there is no internal depth to his words.

Davening is the gift our Avos gave us. However, just like anything that is given to us, we can get used to it and never really use it to good effect.

The Yidden leaving Egypt knew that Jews daven, and at their moment of crisis they acted out of habit. They prayed, but it seems they didn’t do it with the totality of conviction that would prevent them from blaming Moshe in their very next breath.

So what can we do, in this generation, many moons away from those days of open miracles?  How can we even hope to daven with full deveikus?

Hashem knows how broken and weak we are, yet his love transcends our weaknesses. How can we daven today with vitality, by working on it with all our meagre strength?

More than any other act of Yiddishkeit, the yetzer hora tries to stop us from davening because he knows this is the one tool that can break through all the darkness.

I believe it is important to find ways to show our young what it feels like to really daven. Tzaddikim are Hashem’s agents on earth who daven with a true connection to Hashem. Let our young experience their tefillos, let them feel part of what real davening is.

The Pnei Menachem of Ger ztl davened in a particularly open and fiery fashion. This was something not usually experienced in Ger. When asked about this, he would explain that today’s youth need to see such an avodah.

Here’s another tip: it may be worthwhile to use different siddurim sometimes. Getting used to one particular font allows for too much familiarity, which leads to davening by rote. Try sometimes using your finger to follow each word. This will cause you to focus on what you are saying. It may take longer, but the time will be well spent.

Like everything else in the realm of kedusha, each individual must seek his or her unique path. The vital point is to awaken oneself from the slumber of habit.

We need to daven now; things are getting darker, and Klal Yisroel is in extreme danger. Don’t just daven because that’s what’s done, but daven with your heart, your total self. Speak to your Rabbonim, learn with others and work on this one facet of who we are. In this zechus our voices will be heard, our tefillos answered and hopefully the tragedies will end and we will all be blessed in basking in the illumination of the coming of the Moshiach.

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