As Moshe Rabbeinu recounts the events of the sin of the Golden Calf, and tells of his prayers on behalf of Aharon and the Jewish Nation, he asserts twice that he prayed: “va’espallel el Hashem.”
R’ Avigdor Miller comments that these tefillos of Moshe Rabbeinu were unique in that they extended over a period of 40 days and nights, during which time he verbalized every type of request, plea and entreaty on behalf of his beloved nation. It is difficult to understand what this means, as when we pray for five minutes we have already begun to run out of words and tend to repeat ourselves.
Obviously, Hashem knew in advance that the Jewish nation would sin, but HaRav Miller reveals that, notwithstanding the gravity of their sin, Hashem allowed them to be inspired to pray to Him. Through prayer, explains R’ Miller, the Jewish nation and Moshe Rabbeinu himself were able to attain a level of spiritual perfection they could not otherwise have imagined. In fact, it was following these prayers on behalf of the Jewish Nation that Moshe Rabbeinu merited “face-to-face” conversations with Hashem. Prayer has the power to elevate the individual and bring him closer to Hashem.
Surprisingly, there is no specific commandment for prayer in the Torah; rather, it is included in the commandment of “to serve Him with all your heart” (Devarim 11:13), as codified by Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 1:1). Considering its far-reaching impact on the development of one’s essence and character, it is difficult to understand why it is not in fact a definitive mitzvah in the Torah.
HaRav Miller points out that prayer is not simply a mitzvah; it’s a way of life that establishes a constant connection to Hashem. From the moment we awake in the morning and recite the Modeh Ani, throughout the entire day until we go to sleep at night and recite the Krias Shema, the Jewish nation is continually bonding with Hashem.
Many of the great personalities throughout Jewish history are renowned as “people of prayer. Despite all his triumphs and accomplishments, Dovid HaMelech writes, when defining his essence, (Tehillim 109:4), “I am prayer.” This is to say that he did not just pray many tefillos, nor does it mean that he prayed with intense kavanah and concentration. It means that his being was defined by prayer. As long as he lived, he had a profound relationship with Hashem and spoke to Him. It is said of Dovid, (Tehillim 92:3), “to relate Your kindness in the dawn and Your faith in the nights,” as his praise for Hashem began early in the morning and continued throughout the day. It is the ideal of “I am prayer” that is our pursuit and aspiration.
HaRav Miller related that a non-Jewish family resided next door to his shul. Once, as the men were coming to Mincha prayers, he overheard the father remark to his daughter: What is it with these Jews? They come all day to synagogue. They’re always coming and going, and never seem to finish praying. HaRav Miller enjoyed this greatly, for it is the truth. We never finish praying. We follow in the footsteps of Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid HaMelech, praying constantly, all the days of our lives.
A Promise Fulfilled
Shortly before the beginning of World War II, a pious Gerer chossid living in Poland managed to leave the country and come to America. The plan was that his family would follow him; however, days after his departure the war broke out and his family became trapped in the valley of the shadow of death. Months passed and he did not hear from them, and he feared the worst.
He came to the great Kapishnitzer Rebbe in New York, gave him his kvittel (a note given to a tzaddik listing the names of people for whom he should pray and any special requests) and began to cry bitterly. The Rebbe was deeply troubled and very shaken, as he was well aware of the evil decrees of the Nazis in Europe. What could be done from America to save the family? The man continued to cry for more than an hour.
The Kapishnitzer could not endure the pain of another Jew, and he offered the man encouraging words of bitachon and emunah in Hashem, inspiring him to trust that Hashem would have mercy on his family. But the man would not calm down.
The Kapishnitzer Rebbe looked once again at the kvittel he had been given and suddenly rose from his chair. He then proclaimed loudly: I promise you that within a number of weeks all of your family will be with you alive, healthy and well.
As soon as the man heard this explicit promise from the lips of the holy Rebbe, he immediately regained his composure and was filled with joy. He was certain he could rely on the words of the tzaddik.
Indeed, as the Rebbe had promised, the man was soon happily reunited with his family. They recounted that when they had reached the borders of Poland they could not leave because the borders were sealed. It then came to light that, coinciding with the bracha and promise of the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, they were able to miraculously obtain visas under non-Jewish names which allowed them to leave the country.
When the Rebbe was asked how he was able to wholeheartedly make a promise in such a situation where the likelihood of people remaining alive was so precarious, he answered with great humility. Truthfully, I didn’t perform any miracle at all, but it was impossible for me to witness the great tzar of another Jew and not do something. No matter how hard I tried I was unable to calm him down, until I gave him the promise. I then stood and cried tearful pleas to Heaven that I should not be guilty of making a deceitful promise, and I prayed that my words would always remain pure and trustworthy. The Holy One Blessed be He, who hears all the prayers of the Jewish Nation, answered my prayers, and my promise was fulfilled in its entirety.