“Come to Pharaoh for I have made his heart…stubborn” (Shemos 10:1).
In the Zohar, R’ Yehuda expounds on this pasuk – which introduces the plague of locusts – with a pasuk from Tehillim (89:16), “Praised be the people who know the teru’ah.” What’s the connection between these two pesukim?
The Doresh Tzion cites Taanis (19a), which states that we should cry out (i.e., blow the shofar), fast, and pray when trouble befalls the community. Among the misfortunes enumerated in the Talmud are blight, jaundice, locusts, dangerous beasts, and an invading army.
The Code of Jewish Law states that any indication of the appearance of these misfortunes warrants crying out – even on Shabbos. It is forbidden to communally pray on Shabbos on behalf of an individual (unless he is ill and in mortal danger), but it is permitted to pray on Shabbos for multitudes threatened by these kinds of catastrophes.
“Praised be the people who know the teru’ah.” Why “know” as opposed to “blow” or “hear”? The Zohar explains that the main purpose of sounding the shofar is knowing its message, which is, as the Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah: “Wake up, you sleepers, from your sleep.” It’s a call to teshuvah, which will bring us closer to our father in heaven and arouse divine mercy and compassion.
“Praise be the people who know the teru’ah” – and when they witness such a destructive plague as the plague of locusts, they cry out to Hashem in prayer.
Sefer Ha’Ikrim discusses the mystifying concept that tefillah has the power to change the will of Hashem, the omniscient king of kings. He explains that prayers from the depths of one’s heart effect a change in the person praying such that he is transformed into a new person upon whom no decree was issued.
The Talmud (Berachos 6b) categorizes prayer as a matter of utmost importance (it “stands on the highest point of the world”), but one that people often disrespect. The sefer Be’er HaChaim explains that there are no barriers in the high heavens and with tefillah one can achieve supernatural salvation. In that vein, Rabbeinu Bechaye (on Parshas Eikev) writes that one should not limit one’s prayers asking for mercy, even on behalf of a critically ill person, because detrimental decrees can be overturned.
We say in Tehillim (27:14), “Hope to Hashem; strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem.” Our sages tell us that the repetition of “hope to Hashem” tells us that if a person’s prayers were not answered the first time, he should pray again.
A short time after the birth of a son, R’ Nechemia’s wife became gravely ill. The doctors concluded that the woman’s life could only be saved with a surgery that would preclude her from becoming pregnant again. R’ Nechemia and his wife reluctantly agreed to the life-saving surgery.
At the last moment, regretting the drastic decision, R’ Nechemia traveled to Bnei Brak to seek the advice of the Chazon Ish.
R’ Nechemia entered the Chazon Ish’s study shortly before Mincha and explained the situation to the Chazon Ish. The Chazon Ish responded that in a matter of pikuach nefesh, one is obligated to do everything necessary to save the life of the patient. So his wife must have the surgery even though she won’t be able to have any more children as a result.
As the husband turned to leave, the Chazon Ish asked, “Have you davened Minchah yet?” R’ Nechemia answered, “No,” so the Chazon Ish suggested that he come daven with him.
After Minchah, the Chazon Ish asked R’ Nechemia to repeat what he had told him earlier. After he did so, the Chazon Ish said, “And what answer did I give you?” R’ Nechemia answered that he had advised him to proceed with the surgery. The Chazon Ish said, “No. You don’t need to do it.” R’ Nechemia was astonished at this psak and merely asked, “What should I do about the fee I already paid the doctor?”
“Do not ask him to return it,” said the Chazon Ish. “If he returns it of his own volition, though, you may accept it.”
R’ Nechemia returned to Yerushalayim and informed the doctors treating his wife of his change of heart. Dismayed, they explained that every moment the surgery was delayed would be harmful to his wife’s condition. But they ultimately accepted his decision and the surgeon returned the fee he had been paid.
The next morning, after examining R’ Nechemia’s wife, the doctors were amazed to discover that they had been mistaken and said surgery would have been harmful. They asked R’ Nechemia why he had changed his mind. R’ Nechemia loudly proclaimed, “The Chazon Ish did not give me permission to go ahead with the surgery.”
R’ Nechemia’s wife recovered completely and had 10 children. One of the sons of R’ Nechemia later said, “Our whole life is from that tefillas Minchah.” The circumstances of an individual before Minchah cannot be compared to his standing after Minchah. One Minchah recited properly can change everything for the better.