In my last column I promised that, B’Ezrat Hashem, I would outline constructive steps to help reverse the madness that seems to have overtaken our world. One of the most powerful weapons that we, the Jewish people possess, that has been our shield from the genesis of our history is prayer. Through genuine prayer, we can conquer and triumph over every adversity. “Ahm zu yatzarta li – I created this nation,” Hashem declared, “So that they might proclaim My praise.” Indeed, to be a Jew is to know how to pray and proclaim the One-ness of G-d.
We the Jewish people introduced prayer and G-d to the pagan world. Because of that, for centuries, we suffered persecution, mockery and slaughter. If today there are people other than us who can say “Amen,” “Hallelukah,” recite Psalms and pronounce blessings, it is because we imparted that gift. But tragically in our long centuries of exile and darkness, we, the nation that created prayer, forgot how to pray. Yet perhaps more than ever before we need prayer.
The world is running amok. From day to day, or more accurately, from moment to moment, a new crisis erupts, the latest being the tragic Madoff scandal. How can one understand it? The numbers are staggering – it is totally incomprehensible, all the more so because those who were taken in by this mammoth Ponzi scheme were not naive novices, but savvy, successful individuals highly respected in the world of business, finance and academia. What is happening? What is going on?
Those of you who have been following my columns know that time and again, I have written that we are living in exceptional times. There are no coincidences in the world. What we are experiencing today are wake-up calls that are Chevlei Moshiach – the birth pangs of Messiah. These birth pangs are meant to wake us up and, therefore, can be very painful. Thus it was foretold that terrible suffering would mark this period.
How long will these birth pangs last? Until we come to the realization that there is only One in Whom we can place our trust, and that is our G-d – “Ein Od Milvado.” And so before our very eyes, one by one, our cherished icons have dissolved. We have seen events unfold that even in the wildest stretch of our imaginations could never have been anticipated.
If just one short year ago someone had told us that the invincible fortresses of finance and industry would vanish overnight, we would have labeled him as delusionary. And yet that is exactly what occurred. But we don’t get it. Nor have our wake-up calls been limited to the world of finance and industry…. havoc abounds everywhere: natural disasters, illness, the breakdown of families, corruption, moral decay – the very concepts of honor, integrity, and respect have all but disappeared.
Perhaps the most telling commentary on our morally bankrupt society was the barbaric stampede of shoppers at a Wal-Mart in New York. In its frenzy to find a bargain, the crowd actually trampled a human being to death! A society that is so ridden with greed must find its soul before it totally consumes itself.
Now, in addition to this internal decay, we are also witness to an escalation of anti-Semitism. Only 68 years after the Holocaust, we are witness to the demonization of Israel. Make no mistake about it, this means all Jews, not just Israelis, even if you are in denial and try to convince yourself of the contrary.
In 1929 the Stock Market crashed and the Great Depression enveloped America and then spread throughout the globe. It took Hitler, yemach shemo 10 years to convince the world that it was all the fault of the Jews. Today, that which it took Hitler 10 years to accomplish is being done overnight!
With the Internet, You Tube, and other sophisticated media outlets, venom and hatred are spread like wildfire. Achmadinejad, the Hitler of today, gave voice to this when he addressed the United Nations and placed the blame for the current world financial meltdown on “Zionist Jews” and for good measure announced that “Israel is cesspool that must be exterminated.” And amazingly, or more correctly, typically, there was no protest, no outcry; as a matter of fact, he was feted. Conversely, consider only how the Moslem world reacted to a cartoon …but when the Jewish people are slandered, no one reacts.
There is nothing new about this Jew baiting. It is as old as our history. But astonishingly we, the Jewish people, don’t get it. We remain asleep and oblivious to the fact that events unfolding before our eyes are wake-up calls. Since 9/11 we have had so many wake-up calls, but have we changed? Have we come closer to Hashem?
It is written that during this very difficult period of Messianic birth pangs, Yishmael will terrorize our people. His savagery and brutality will know no bounds and his bloody hands will touch every part of the globe. Consider only the decapitations, their obsession with killing, and their glorying in the torture and suffering of Jews. Consider only Mumbai. Who would ever have believed that these Islamic terrorists would choose a small insignificant Chabad House in India sheltering a few pious Jews for barbaric torture and slaughter? Who would ever have imagined such a thing?
Yet, more than 26 years ago, the Klausenberger Rebbe predicted that this would occur in India in the period preceding the coming of Messiah. (This amazing prediction of the Rebbe is documented in his writings and recorded on tape.) So how do we understand all this?
We have a teaching, “Eis tzarah hi l’Yaakov…” It is a time of travail for Yaakov, the Jewish people… But, the passage concludes, “From that trial, our salvation will emerge.” And so, in the very name of our foe is our salvation to be found. Yishmael literally means, “G-d will listen.” The very first step in neutralizing the bloody terror of Yishmael is to turn to our G-d and place our trust in Him. But, alas, we turn to everyone and everything but our Heavenly Father.
Consider for a moment a parent who has three grown children. One of them calls in regularly, but his communication is always superficial. He just seems to be going through the motions and there is no genuine sincerity to his call.
The second son visits only when he needs something. If he doesn’t get his way he accuses his father of not being loyal or loving, and may cease to call altogether. Then there is the third son, who never even attempts to call or visit. He is totally estranged from his father and has no desire to build a relationship. Tragically, most of us relate to our Heavenly Father like one of these sons. So we have to rediscover the unique power that is to be found in our own voices, the power that has the ability to pierce the Heavenly Gates.
To be sure, there are those who, upon reading this, might protest: “I prayed and prayed and nothing happened.”
When you are on a treadmill, how do you know that you are doing well? The obvious answer is “perspiration.” What perspiration is for the body, tears are for the soul. You have to come clean in front of your G-d and “spill out your heart like water.” What’s more, if you are on a regimen of exercise, you don’t give up – you keep at it and continue to build up your muscles. Similarly, you never give up on prayer.
My brother, HaRav Yonoson Binyamin HaLevi Jungreis, reminded me of this lesson. A few weeks ago, my family commemorated the Yahrzeit of our dear, beloved mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h. On the way to the Beis HaChayim, the cemetery, my brother reminded me that our esteemed, beloved father, HaRav Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would often quote the old Munkatcher Rebbe, who asked, “Why is it that at the end of our prayers we recite the closing lines of King David’s Psalm 27, “Kavei el Hashem.” “Place your trust in the L-rd, strengthen your heart. Place your trust in the L-rd?”
Why, the Rebbe asked, should this prayer be recited at the conclusion of the service? Would it not be more appropriate to recite it as we commence our prayers so that we might pray with more intensity?
Herein lies a great teaching for all of us. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father cannot be like that of the impetuous son who, when he doesn’t get his way, sulks and doesn’t come back.
Our father Isaac and our mother Rebecca prayed for the gift of a child for 20 years, and they never gave up. As a matter of fact, all our patriarchs and matriarchs prayed relentlessly for many, many years for a child, a gift that came easily to others, but was given to them only after much struggle, pain and prayer. Our prayers must be “Avodah Sheb’Lev – the labor of our hearts.” Only such prayer has the power to elevate and transform us into the people that G-d meant us to be. So it is that at the conclusion of our prayers, we strengthen and remind ourselves to continue to pray until our words ascend on high and reach the Heavenly Throne, thus affirming our mandate to proclaim “Ein Od Milvado.”
Since the readership of The Jewish Press is composed of people from all backgrounds, before concluding this article, I would like to offer some practical suggestions that will help us grow in prayer. If you do not know how to pray in Hebrew, that should not hold you back, for it is written “It is permissible to recite the Shema in every language.” Of course, it is preferable to pray in the Holy Tongue, but if we do not know how to do so, the main thing is that we pray. Today we have amazing prayer books with English translations and explanations, which clearly delineate which prayers are to be recited on each occasion. The ArtScroll Prayer Book is a very fine example of this.
1) Designate a special place in your home for prayer. 2) Teach your children by example. Let them see you stand before G-d. 3) When you pray, turn off the phone and keep in mind at all times that you are having an audience with the King of Kings. If you have not prayed in the past, don’t be intimidated by the vastness of the prayer book. Just get started and you will grow in prayer. You may also wish to consult a rabbi as to which prayers you should commence with. 4) Collect your thoughts and stand in awe in front of Him. If your mind wanders, stop and apologize and ask Hashem to help you concentrate. You might also find it helpful to point to the words with your finger. It will help you to focus.
And now a word to the men: Make a strong effort to daven with a minyan. There is an awesome merit to this. Be careful about donning your tefillin and bear in mind that, when doing so, you are consecrating your intellect, heart, and might to G-d. Don’t be late going to shul. If you had an appointment with the President, you would be sure to be on time. Do not desecrate your meeting with G-d with private conversations, and be sure to turn off your cell phones.
G-d has promised “He will always be near to those who call upon Him in truth.” Prayer is our most powerful weapon through which we can change the world. How many wake-up calls must we receive before we absorb that message?
In my next column, B’Ezrat Hashem, I will expound upon the three-fold formula that our sages teach can protect and preserve us during this difficult period called “Chevlei Moshiach.”