“… Batya saw the child … crying. She took pity on him and said: ‘This is one of the Jewish boys’” (Shemos 2:6).
We learn that the Jewish people who are characterized with the unique traits of being merciful, possessing a sense of shame, and doing acts of kindness, can ignite those same traits within others. Batya understood that since her compassion had been kindled, the child she saw must be Jewish.
Rav Gamliel observes that one must appreciate his powerful ability to engender compassion in the world, whether in awakening the sympathy of another individual or arousing the Divine mercy, as the verse (Tehillim 34:7) states, “This poor man calls and Hashem hears, and He saves him from all his troubles.” Our Sages tell us that all prayers make a strong impression in the Heavens and are answered. It is possible, however, that one may need to wait for the answer or may not understand the response.
The Torah relates (Shemos 2:23), “… the king of Egypt died, and Bnei Yisroel groaned because of the work and they cried out, and their cry ascended to Hashem …” Hashem had told Avraham Avinu at the Bris bein Habesarim (Covenant of the Parts) that the Jewish people would be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years. Although only 210 years had elapsed, the cries and prayers were very effective, as the next pasuk states, “Hashem heard their moaning and He remembered His covenant … ”
To all appearances, though, the situation of the Jewish people only seemed to deteriorate further, and one could think that the prayers had a negative impact, as the Torah relates. In fact, Moshe complained to Hashem (Shemos 5:22), “Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name he has done evil to this people and You have not saved Your people.”
It is only then that Hashem responded, “Now you will see what I shall do to Pharaoh.”
A person should never be disheartened about the effectiveness of his prayers. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 18a) speaks of R’ Meir, who cited the feasibility of two individuals who were ill with the same sickness, yet one recovered and one did not. How could this happen? R’ Meir explained that one prayed with his whole heart and was answered, while the other did not pray with his whole heart and was not answered.
R’ Eliyahu Lopian asks: They knew their lives were in mortal danger. Wouldn’t they both devote themselves to sincere and fervent prayer, and ensure that there were no interruptions or intrusions in their thoughts?
We learn from here that praying with one’s whole heart encompasses more than deep kavanah (intent and concentration). It is an absolute belief and faith that one’s prayers can redeem the individual and save him from death or another adverse consequence.
We say every day in Ashrei, “Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely.” R’ Lopian offers a parable to explain this inconsistency.
On the date of his birthday, Czar Nikolai of Russia had the custom of opening the gates of his palace to the public. He allowed anyone to come in and make a request of him, which he would try to fulfill. There was only one condition. The petitioner had to be able to speak Russian, and could not use the services of an interpreter to make his request. One could not have his appeal realized merely by being in the presence of the czar.
Similarly, Hashem is close to everyone who calls upon Him, but one must speak to Hashem with sincerity to achieve the desired results.
‘Why Don’t You Pray?’
A malevolent and anti-Semitic person who worked in the home of one of the Jewish families in town stole money from a government official. He hid the empty purse in his employer’s home, and when it was found the Jew was brought to judgment and sentenced to death.
When the Ksav Sofer, the son of the Chasam Sofer, was informed about this turn of events, he was very shaken. He knew that the framed individual was innocent and was an upstanding member of the community. Many askanim tried to intervene, but they were unsuccessful. The Ksav Sofer then personally traveled to the city to intercede with the powers that be, but no one would listen and no one believed him.
The Ksav Sofer returned to Pressburg, his hometown, the afternoon before the scheduled execution, discouraged by his lack of success. As he contemplated what else could be done to save the man, he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
As he slept, his father, the great Chasam Sofer appeared to him. He had promised that if there was ever a time when his son needed help, he would come to help him. The Chasam Sofer called out to his son: How is it possible that a Jew will be killed, leaving behind a wife and family, and you’re sleeping? Why are you not trying to help him?
The Ksav Sofer became very agitated hearing his father’s reproach and began to cry: I have tried everything. What have I neglected to do?
The Chasam Sofer admonished him. “Why don’t you pray? At such a time you don’t lie down to sleep. You must shake up the Heavens with your prayer. You must bang on the gates of Heaven until Hashem has mercy. You don’t sleep now!”
The Ksav Sofer awoke, and immediately alerted all the members of the community – men, women and children – to gather in the main shul to pour out their hearts in prayer to Hashem. He pleaded with them to beseech Hashem, with unfaltering faith in His salvation, for an annulment of the death sentence. The assemblage heeded the words of the Ksav Sofer, and their cries pierced the Heavens.
When dawn arrived, the decree had been rescinded. Overnight, the police had received a tip from one of the thief’s partners. When they searched the house, they found the stolen money that had been hidden. The thief was taken to jail, and the Jew was freed.
All the inhabitants of the city witnessed firsthand the efficacy of sincere prayer that had the power to abolish a sealed decree.