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Parshas Eikev: The Scream of Prayer

Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

“And I looked and behold, you had sinned against Hashem, your G-d; you had made yourselves a molten calf. You had turned quickly away from the path which Hashem had commanded you.” (Devarim 9:16)

“And I fell down before Hashem … I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of your sin that you sinned, in doing that which was evil in the Eyes of Hashem ... ” (ibid. 9:18).

“So I fell down before Hashem for forty days and forty nights … because Hashem had said He would destroy you”(ibid. 9:25)

“Falling down” is prayer. Similar to the verse, “And Esther fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears to remove the plots of Haman.” (Esther 8:3) This is a special sort of intense entreaty that includes great submission until, from total self-abnegation, one falls before Hashem. (Rav Shimshon Pincus, She’arim B’Tefillah)

At various points in our lives we encounter closed doors. Paths that are blocked. Alarmed, we search for the right key that will open the door and solve the problem that has sprung up at the crossroads.

We use every trick in the book to gain entry. We turn and twist, kick and pull. We contact various people and try endless options.

And above all — prayer. Because what are efforts worth without prayer?

But sometimes, to our horror, we discover that the locked door is a wall. And there is no key, no way to penetrate this wall. A great darkness falls upon us, a paralyzing fear that blinds the eyes and grips the heart with helplessness and brings us to a desperate recognition: Our hands are empty of any keys at all.

All that’s left now is to scream. To pour out our pain from the abyss of despair. This is a scream of the heart and the depths of the soul. It says, “Only Hashem. Only You can save me. And I won’t give up screaming, because I don’t have even one small key of my own.”

This is the way of Hashem; when one comes and falls down before Him, with the clear argument that he has no one else to turn to and that if Hashem won’t have mercy on him, then he will be left alone forever — then immediately, Hashem will have mercy on him. And this is a prayer of falling before Him. (ibid.)

A sound pierces the air. Immediately we halt, abandon our half-finished task, and rush to the source of the noise. It’s not a loud sound. Not a telephone, nor a siren. Only the faintest whimper from behind the wooden bars of a tiny crib. Tiny arms raised toward us …

“Mommy’s here,” we hurry to say, our voice soothing. “Mommy’s going to feed you, she’ll change your diaper, and hold you for a little.”

Sometimes that faint call comes in the middle of the night. We grope our way, exhausted, our eyes are half closed, but we standing at attention at the first cry we hear.

The years pass. The crib is now a youth bed, and the cries don’t send us running as quickly as they once did. “Mommy!” cries yesterday’s baby, now speaking real words. “I’m thirsty!”

We continue in our work. “So go take something to drink,” we suggest offhandedly.

“And I can’t find my little car!” he adds, sobbing bitterly.

“So go look for it.”

“But I can’t find it!” Weeping accompanies the sobs.

“When Tatty comes, he’ll help you look.” I’m busy now; we think, don’t you see?

When you were little, you couldn’t pour yourself a drink; you didn’t know how to ask anyone to help you, didn’t know how to look for your pacifier when it got lost among the blankets. When you were little, your cries touched my heart because you were dependent on me alone.

This was the prayer of Choni HaMaagel. He drew a circle on the ground saying, “I swear to You that I won’t move from here until You take pity on Your children.” He made it clear that his salvation was only from Hashem. And consequently, Heaven showed him mercy. (ibid.)

Sometimes it’s good that there isn’t any key at all, that there’s no hint of salvation.

Because then there’s only Hashem. Then, all that’s left are our siddur, our tears, and our screams of absolute dependency.

Then we’ll pound on Heaven’s doors … and they will open.

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