| Parshah |

Power of Prayer

A heartfelt prayer has the ability to save a person’s life, independent of his merits or faults


“If a man has a rebellious son who doesn’t obey his father or his mother, and they rebuke him, and [he still] doesn’t listen to them.”

(Devarim 21:18)


ben sorer u’moreh, a rebellious son, is executed at a young age for his crimes. Rashi explains that this child is killed “based on his end.” Although his present sins don’t warrant the death penalty, they reveal that he’s headed down a corrupt path. Therefore, it’s preferable for him to die now, while still relatively innocent, than to die after committing a true capital offense.
Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi points out that this contradicts Rashi’s comments in Bereishis (21:17). When young Yishmael was sick in the desert and dying of thirst, Hashem saved him. Rashi says: Despite the fact that Yishmael will grow to produce a nation that will ultimately attack Bnei Yisrael, still, Hashem judges based on the person’s actions at the moment, not based on his future.
If so, why is the rebellious son, who hasn’t yet committed a capital sin, killed based on his future? (Rabbi Ozer Alport, Parsha Potpourri)

Circa 1980. The sun is setting and you hadn’t yet davened Minchah… but not to worry, you have the whole spiel down pat. You slip into a public phone booth. (Yeah, I said this was the 80s. If you don’t know what such a booth looked like, consult your grandmother.) You pick up the receiver, look both ways, and pretend you dropped your pen as you bend for Shemoneh Esreh. You’re pretty good at this; no one would suspect what you’re really doing. Then you slip out of the phone booth a few minutes later, glad no one is waiting. It would be so awkward to try to explain Minchah to the uninitiated.

Rav Yissocher Frand quotes the Bei Chiyah who resolves this apparent contradiction based on a Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18a). The Gemara discusses two people, sick with the same disease, and one is cured while the other dies from his illness.
The Gemara explains that the person who survived prayed with all his heart to be saved, while the one who died didn’t pray with full devotion. A heartfelt prayer has the ability to save a person’s life, independent of his merits or faults. An apropos thought to bear in mind as we approach Yom Hadin….

Nowadays, we don’t have the safety of that phone booth. But with the advent of Bluetooth, it seems like everyone’s talking to themselves as they walk down the sidewalk or check out their groceries. Surely no one pays attention if you’re standing in a park whispering….

The Bei Chiyah suggests that Yishmael was spared, not solely due to his righteous status at the time, but for his prayer. He cried out to Hashem, and the pasuk says, “Hashem heard the boy’s voice.” Although Yishmael’s offspring would inflict brutal pain on the world in the future, his prayers still saved him then.
Today, Yishmael’s descendants continue his dedication to prayer, which has unfortunately enabled them to enjoy great success in their pursuit of nefarious objectives. Recognizing the source of their power, it behooves us to recommit ourselves to our prayers. Hakol kol Yaakov. Our strength comes through the voice of our prayers. In that merit, may Hashem hear our pleas, independent of any wrongdoings, and speedily redeem us from this painful exile in which we’ve suffered for so long at the hands of Yishmael and Edom.

Circa 21st century. I was in the airport in Europe, waiting for my connecting flight home. I’d davened Minchah at a deserted gate lounge, and now I strode down the hall to reach my gate. But traffic slowed; there was a crowd up ahead, mumbling and murmuring.

I inched along, and then I saw them. An entire lounge was filled with Muslims all bent over on their prayer mats, bowing, kneeling, and murmuring, totally unconcerned with how they appeared or that they were slowing pedestrian traffic. They each were doing their thing, despite how weird it may have seemed to the uninitiated.

I know I’m a Jew in galus and I should keep a low profile in public. Yet on the other hand, as I watched the group absorbed in prayer, oblivious to those observing them, I couldn’t help but contrast their prayers, l’havdil, to my surreptitious Minchah.

Shivers went down my spine. Our generation knows so much suffering from these same descendants of Yishmael. We need to realize that the only thing protecting us is our connection to Hashem, and to take pride in our power of prayer.


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 857)

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