Good Shabbos!

I dedicate this parsha-post l’ilui nishmas all those who tragically perished in the recent California wildfires, and as a zechus for brachos, yeshua, refuah, nechama, koach and achdus, for their survivors and those who are rebuilding their homes and lives.



The entire world population is corrupt in all their ways.  Civilization is crumbling.  Murder and all sorts of unspeakable acts are rampant among the cruel and base.  The world is devoid of holiness, and the Creator has been forgotten.  Any and all foundations and traces of morality and humanity have been dissolved in the world.  That is, with the exception of your righteous family.  Wickedness and degeneracy press in from all sides, raging constantly outside your door, but you stand strong against the current.  You know there is a one and only G-d, and you desire only His ways.  These days, the darkness and destruction is so great, that G-d comes to you, with very grave news.  “And Hashem regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart. {Bereishis 6:6}”  He tells you…

“Va’Ani hin’ni mayvi et-ha’mabul mayim al-ha’aretz l’shacheit kol-basar asher-bo ruach chaim mitachas hashamayim kol asher-ba’aretz yigva — And I, behold I am bringing the flood, water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which there is the spirit of life, from beneath the heavens; all that is upon the earth will perish.” {6:17}

What do you do?


In truth, one could respond with various reactions.  Upon learning that finally, at last, you would be swept up and away from the corruption, bloodshed, and evil, that you would no longer suffer and struggle to faithfully maintain your morals, and that justice would be meted out… wouldn’t you rejoice?  Or would you go into shock at such a serious change in G-d’s judgement of the human race?  Or would it perhaps be possible to even feel pity, even for the greatest reshaim, as they were about to be hurled into total annihilation?

When being made aware of G-d’s choice to destroy the world by inundating it with the waters of the Flood, Noach is criticized by Chazal and Meforshim, for remaining passive in response to the fatal future of the people.  They level against him the examples of Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu.  The former actually contended with G-d to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the merit of the tzadikim who dwelt there.  Ultimately, Avraham’s assertions didn’t prevail, and G-d destroyed the two sinful cities.  However, Avraham’s profound haggling with Hashem made an impression, and left an indelible mark on the message of prayers and compassion.  The same praise can be applied to the latter, Moshe Rabbeinu; for after the Cheit Eigel Hazahav (Sin of the Golden Calf), G-d was furious with the serious failure of His newborn People.  He pledged to wipe them out, and to crown Moshe as the sole nation and legacy of Israel, but that is not what Moshe sought.  He acknowledged the error that had been committed, but he still argued for the preservation of the people, and his prayer was not without great Mesiras-Nefesh.  He said “V’atah im-tisa chatasa v’im-ayin m’chaini na misifracha asher kasavta – Now if you will forgive their sin– but if not, erase me from the Book which You have written! {Shemos 32:32}”  He pleaded with Hashem until He forgave His children.  Both Avraham and Moshe took action, spoke up, and prayed fervently on the behalf of others… even if the individuals who would benefit from their prayers left much to be desired.

Noach accepted the gezeirah faithfully, but on the other hand approached the matter with an attitude of “whatever floats Your boat, G-d” (pun intended!).  Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu, certainly not any less faithful, took the opposite route and protested against Hashem’s negative decrees.  They weren’t going to go along quietly with the plan, for they had unshakeable belief in G-d’s ultimate goodness.  He could guide anyone to the highest levels of wisdom and holiness.  They knew His compassion, forgiveness, and faith in the potential of mankind transcended any boundary.  So arguing with G-d?  Perhaps it’s a higher level of emunah than we realize.  R’ Tzvi Freeman perfectly captures these epic moments and their eternal message in his Daily Dose of Wisdom, please see here and here.


We still might feel inclined to ask, just where we should draw the line, between passive, quiet acceptance of G-d’s will, and crying out to him in prayerful plea or protest.

A person might become angry or depressed when they feel that G-d is ignoring their prayers.  A bit of enlightenment on this, in a quote from the Ponovezher Rav, R’ Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman ZT”L:  “We think that when our prayers go unanswered, G-d wasn’t responsive to us.  In truth, He was.  He responded, “No!”  I’ll admit that this piece of honest irony gave me a smile, as well as much to think about.  But when G-d answers “No”, how does one proceed?  One must keep praying, of course!  G-d might not grant us our plea, because we might not be asking for what’s right for us; but He also might put off His response, so to speak, when we’re not praying with the fullest kavanah, or if we haven’t reached our greatest prayer-potential.  This is why He withheld children from Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Rochel and Chana.  He knew that the intensity, perseverance, and faith, that permeated their continuous prayers, would shape and refine them into even greater Tzadikim and forbears.  He desired their righteous prayers greatly.

But once Hashem’s decree has come to pass, we do not pray to Him to halt or relieve us of it any longer.  This is explained in Mishna Berachos {Perek 9, Mishna 3}:

“Ha’tzo’aik l’she’avar, harei zo tefilas shav.  Kaitzad?  Haiysa ishto m’uberes, v’amar: ‘Y’hi ratzon shetayled ishti zachar,’ harei zo tefilas shav.  Hayah va vaderech v’shama kol tz’vacha ba’ir, v’amar: ‘Y’hi ratzon shelo yihyu eilu bnei vaisi,’ harei zo tefilas shav. — (If) one prays regarding the past, this is a prayer in vain.  How so?  (If) one’s wife was pregnant, and he said ‘May it be (G-d’s) will that my wife will give birth to a male,’ this is a prayer in vain.  (If) one was coming along the road, and he heard the sound of screaming in the city, and he said ‘May it be (G-d’s) will that those (who are screaming) not be (members of) my household,’ this is a prayer in vain.”

The first example given is in the case of the unborn baby’s gender having already been determined.  A continued prayer for a certain child is pointless after this finalization, so you wouldn’t pray to G-d to change the developing child after the fact.  Similarly, in the case of the second example; whoever made the outcry, whether it be a stranger or a household member, has already been met with the unfortunate occurrence.  A prayer can’t go back in time and change the past.  Once Hashem causes to pass whatever He wills for so-and-so, whether it be positive or negative, we must accept it with humility and submissiveness.  We assume a certain passivity, similar to Noach.  Hashem’s wisdom and reasoning behind what He causes to happen is usually beyond us, and for whatever He made His ratzon, we have to try to see the bigger picture, and understand that this, too, is for the ultimate good, and part of the Master Plan.

On the flip side of the coin…

We can certainly pray for anything before the fact, and of course during any course of events for guidance and clarity to deal with it.  We were given a voice as a tool in the service of Hashem.  We are reminded of this frequently when we recite the verse {Tehillim 51:17} before the Amida “Ado-nai s’fasai t’fitach, u’fi yagid t’hilasecha — My Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise”.  We are indeed as nothing before Hashem in prayer, so we must ask Him to instill within us with the inspiration to simply speak, and to allow His energy and words to flow through the vessel that we make ourselves into; thus we pray to open our lips with “Your praise”.  Like a person who speaks meanwhile deeply focused on an idea or teaching, he speaks without selectivity or calculation, but his words just flow forth like water, so it should be with us when we are immersed in tefillah.  A most beautiful insight, drawn from’s Online Siddur with Commentary, jewels of Chassidus, that I credit to Mrs. Nechama Laber for teaching me just yesterday morning.  Perhaps I digressed slightly, but this insight also emphasizes how we are created to praise G-d.  Also, praying to Hashem in fact is one of the greatest ways of revealing Him in this world!  Please see here for further elaboration on this subject.

You may have been visited before by the question of “Why does G-d need my tefillos anyway?”  In truth, He doesn’t require our prayers, but He loves them and is awaiting them nonetheless.  We need to pray; our davening changes us, and molds us into greater, more conscious and connected beings, and also has a profound effect on the world around us.  Tefillah is a gift for every person, for every occasion and all time.  It’s a treasure and bond that can never be expropriated from us.  Chazal (our Sages) teach us, that ‘even if a sword is at your throat, do not cease your prayers,’ for Hashem can make a miracle occur at any moment, even until the last.  Perhaps Yogi Bera was channeling Chazal when he famously said “It ain’t over ’til it’s over…  Hopefully, it will not take something so drastic for us to realize the relevance and constancy of prayer.  Nothing is too small to request; what we can offer thanks for is limitless; and praise is a precious purpose  that is ours to fulfill. 

Be unafraid to assert yourself on behalf of others, emulating Avraham and Moshe.  Don’t forget to use your voice to pray for those in distress, for those who are facing great challenges in life, and for those who just need a little spark of joy, life, and inspiration, to reach the heights for which they were created to achieve.

Passivism or protestation…  Ultimately, is one approach better that the other?  I leave the question to you.


One last Chiddush on tefillah, and a lesson that can be drawn from a seemingly technical detail on the teiva (ark):

First, the Chiddush drawn from R’ Tzvi Freeman’s Daily Dose, entitled “The Ark”:  There is a violent sea storm raging.  The waves are hurling, and their mighty force leaves a wake of destruction.  The relentless waves are the struggles and stresses of fighting to maintain a livelihood, of not knowing which direction to turn, or not knowing what lays ahead, and the indecision and insecurities…  They churn in a confusion of opposites in temperature and bearing.  But how can you save yourself from this sorry fate, from being storm-tossed any longer in these suffocating currents?  Mirror Noach, and create for yourself an ark.  The Hebrew word for “an ark” is “teiva,” which curiously means “a word” as well, in Lashon haKodesh.  Your ark, your ticket to personal salvation, shall be your words of prayer and reflection.  Enter into your ark; ease yourself into the other world of your mindful, prayerful moment; let it surround you with its safety and security; and allow it to lift you up upon the rushing waters, instead of letting them drag you down and drown you.

The second, is an insight of my own connecting R’ Freeman’s wisdom from the Rebbe, to a Rashi on this parsha:  Hashem instructs Noach to build the ark {Bereishis 6:14-16}, and describes the size requirements in pasuk 15:

“‘V’zeh asher ta’aseh osah shalosh mei’os amah orech hateiva chamishim amah rachba ushloshim amah komasaAnd this [is the size] you shall make it: three hundred cubits the length of the ark, fifty cubits its breadth, and thirty cubits its height.‘”

We learn from here that the ark was thirty cubits (approximately 45 feet) tall.  Now, let’s jump forward in the sidra to the commencement of the Great Flood:

“Vay’hi Mabul arba’im yom al-ha’aretz v’yirbu hamayim vayisu aet-hateiva vataram may’al ha’aretz. — Now the Flood was forty days upon the earth, and the waters increased, and they lifted the ark, and it rose off the earth.” {Bereishis 7:17}

Rashi comments on the clause “vataram may’al ha’aretz – and it rose off the earth,” and he explains that even as the teiva rose up with the ever-increasing water’s surface, the lower 11 cubits remained submerged beneath the surface, like any loaded ship worth its salt.  This indicates that 19 cubits still reached above the water.  But never mind the numbers– I’m not one much for arithmetic.  What intrigues me is the fact that a measure of the ship was indeed surrounded by the great deep.  For if the ark is a symbol of our prayer, which delivers us from being completely drowned by the hustle and trials of making a living, perhaps this ‘minor’ detail Rashi brings into focus, can remind us that even in the workspace, even in the midst of a busy, hectic setting or crunching hour, we can still break out into prayer to our King.  At any time, in any place, forever and always.  He’s waiting to hear it.  And we’re secretly yearning to let it burst forth.

The Messenger Bird