The Jewish slaves, entrenched and tortured in Egypt for hundreds of years, finally reached a point where they were moved to prayer. “The Children of Israel moaned from the labor, and they cried, and their desperate plea ascended to G-d from the labor.” (Ex. 2:23). The potency of these prayers was obvious from G-d’s swift response (Ex. 2:24) “G-d heard their pleas and He remembered his covenant.” At that point the wheels of the Exodus began to turn, as Moses is appointed to approach Pharaoh, and the stage is set for the ten plagues.
There are 13 words for prayer listed in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Deut. 811), each expressing a different form of prayer. Three of those terms are highlighted above. It’s surprising to learn that the term “Bakasha,” request, is not listed among the 13. Is a request from G-d not a prayer?
A request is an expression of what we want, but the most effective prayer is an expression of what we desperately need. Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, one of today’s great Torah sages, once told a visitor, “Last year you said you wanted this. So I asked you then, ‘Who says G-d wants this too?’ This year you said you needed this. In that case you should be successful in getting it, because our Father makes sure His children have what they need.”
Routine prayer, which takes a central role in Jewish practice, provides an excellent opportunity to speak with G-d, but too often such prayer becomes, well, routine. Informal prayer for the great majority of us is much neglected and tends to surface only at times of absolute distress, G-d forbid, like a pending death, or when in physical or financial danger. Certainly we desire Divine help more often than these scattered moments throughout our days. The secret to turning to G-d more often and with greater sincerity is recognizing how much we truly need Him. Visit an ICU or a homeless shelter and see how much we, who are more fortunate, depend on Him to pump our lungs, to put food on our table, and to maintain our emotional health. Study the wonders of our bodies and nature and discover the complex systems set in perfect balance, consistently providing life to us and those we love. If we spend even 5 minutes a week answering the question “Why do I need G-d?” our relationship with Him, and the effectiveness of our prayers, will improve exponentially! (based on Tiferes Shimshon)
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org