Torah Fax 

Friday - January 9, 2009 - 13 Tevet, 5769

Torah Reading: Veyechi (Genesis 47:28 - 50:26)

Candle Lighting: 4:28 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:33 PM

Shabbat Chazzak


Bow Ties


In the beginning of our Parshah of VaYechi, Jacob blesses his son Joseph and his grandchildren, Menasha and Ephraim. In his blessing, he speaks of the additional portion of the Land in Israel that he acquired and gave to Joseph. Jacob goes on to describe how he had come to acquire that piece of land; how he had conquered it from the Amorites "b'charbi u'bikashti-with my sword and my bow."


Onkeles-the Roman prince who converted to Judaism (first century), and wrote the most authoritative, Divinely inspired, Aramaic translation of the Torah - translates these two words b'charbi u'bikashti as: "with my prayers and petitions."  It is interesting that, Onkeles, the former Roman leader-whose nation lived by the sword-saw the spiritual angle of the text and translated charbi (sword) in a non-literal manner, while other commentators of Jewish origin, see the literalistic angle of Jacob's exploits. Those commentaries translate charbi literally as sword. 


Obviously, both interpretations are true and valid. Jacob did not shy away from a military confrontation with his enemies. As much as Judaism emphasizes the superiority of the spiritual over the physical, there are times when we must use physical force to defend our lives and interests. Passive resistance is not an option when our survival or security is at stake. But, in order for the military aspect of our defense to be successful we need the spiritual element of prayer as well. Jacob thus would always couple his military efforts with prayer. Hence the dual interpretation of the words b'charbi u'bikashti-a) "my sword and bow;" b) "my prayers and petitions."


The question one could ask is why he chose to represent prayer with specifically these two weapons: the sword and the bow and arrow? Second, what is the difference between a prayer and a petition? 

R. Zev Soloveitchik, one of the great Talmudists of the twentieth century, explains that  the sword and arrow are two weapons systems that differ fundamentally and therefore represent two distinct forms of prayer. The sharpened sword can cause serious injury just by having its blade touch its victim. Even without skill and power, one could use a sword against an enemy with devastating results, and even from a close distance. The arrow by contrast is harmless unless it is skillfully shot with a bow by an accomplished archer.


Paralleling these two weapons, prayer likewise comes in two forms: The Shemonah Esrei, the structured prayer that was composed by the prophets of the early second Temple era, is like a sharp sword. Anyone who recites this prayer with minimal skill and preparation has the ability to make a difference and accomplish much on High. Thus, three times a day, even the most spiritually unskilled person, with minimal preparation and emotion, can accomplish much in procuring from G‑d the needs for which we pray. We should never underestimate the power of our daily prayers, even if they appear routine and perfunctory. 

But there is a second type of prayer. It is the prayer of the skilled spiritual archer who knows the highways and byways of the heavens. This is the form of prayer our Talmudic Sages had in mind when they said: "Whoever has a sick person in his home should go to the sage of his city and have him ask for Divine mercy."  While every person can and must pray for his or her own needs, there are certain people whose spiritual stature can pierce the most resistant armor. Their spiritual skill and power can find ways to get our requests met when other avenues may be blocked. 


There is an alternate way of explaining the second form of prayer. The Ba'al Shem Tov taught that anyone who prays with sincerity and intense feeling can break down any of the barriers in heaven. And while our daily prayers were designed by their composers to function as keys to open up the locks on the heavenly gates, a heartfelt prayer recited by anyone-but particularly a person who prays from the depths of his heart-can be compared to an ax that can break any lock.


Thus, according to the Ba'al Shem Tov, the two forms of prayer represent the formal prayers that we recite thrice daily and the more personalized and spontaneous prayer that come from the hearts and souls of even the most simple person who bares his or her soul.


We have many needs for which we pray.  But the most pressing need is the need to leave galut-exile. Exile is not just a geographic term, It can be defined as a period of chaos, oppression, alienation, confusion, spiritual decline, depression, fragmentation, Divine concealment, and the lack of universal peace and harmony. 


This explains why most of our prayers focus on our request and plea to G‑d to take us out of exile and bring us Moshiach.  But, it does not suffice for us to rely on our structured and scheduled prayers to accomplish this goal, we must also vent our strongest feelings and heartfelt pleas to G‑d at all times for the exile to end and for G‑d to bring us Moshiach who will usher in the Messianic Age.  


Moshiach Matters  

Perhaps the reason for the continuation of the exile for yet one moment longer, is that "G‑d desires the prayers of the righteous." Since, according to our Prophets, "Your people are all righteous," let's pray and request and plead and make demands of G‑d on account of this long exile. And then Moshiach will come at once. (The Rebbe) (L'Chaim)

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