This Torah Thought is dedicated in memory of Nechama bas Gadil of blessed memory.
The Torah Portions read in synagogues this Shabbos are the last two portions of the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers), Parshos Mattos-Massei. We therefore thought it appropriate to focus this issue of our online newsletter on some of the concepts relevant to the topic of prayer that are discussed in tjhis Torah portion.
The beginning of Parshas Mattos discusses the Biblical laws of vows. Regarding vows the verse states: “He may not profane his word. He shall do all that he said.” (Chap. 30, verse 3). This is explained homiletically that if a person watches his tongue from speaking idle, mundane words or prohibited speech – if one is careful “not to profane his words”, but rather sanctifies them, then “whatever he says” – whatever he requests of Hashem (G-d) in his prayers will be accepted – Hashem will “do all that he said” for him.
Rabbi Chaim Veetal explains (in the name of Rabbi Shimon Tourneau), “Every word that a Jew Speaks causes a ripple effect in the heavens, whether for good or for bad. If he uses his mouth for spiritual pursuits then it has an effect in spiritual realm for good, but if someone, G-d forbid, uses his mouth for profanity or prohibited speech, the effect in heaven benefits the forces of Evil
Later on in the same portion, the Torah discusses the War with the evil Midianites, the nation that caused the Children of Israel to sin in the dessert.
In preparation for the war with the people of Midian, the verse states in Chapter 31, Verse 3: Moshe spoke to the people, saying: "Arm men from among yourselves for the army and they will be against Midian, to bring revenge of Ad-noy against Midian. Verse 4: One thousand from each tribe, one thousand from each tribe, for all of the tribes of Yisroel, you shall send into the army."
The Midrash tells us that 3,000 men from each tribe were conscripted into the army to fight Midian (12 tribes = 36,000); 12,000 men to fight in the army, 12,000 men to care for the weapons and another 12,000 to pray for the success of the warriors in battle. An equal amount of men were reserved for prayer as was sent out to battle and they were required to leave the camp of the Israelites and stand in prayer in close proximity to the battlefield! Why???
First of all, why should this have been necessary? The Children of Israel fought this war as a Milchemes Mitzvah – it was a war commanded by G-d Himself - to eradicate the evil influences of the Midianites. Therefore, G-d would surely bring them to victory since the war was fought exclusively to defend His honor. Secondly, why were these prayer-men required to be near the battlefield? Wouldn’t it have been better for them to stay in the security of the camp and carry out their prayer vigil from there?
The answer is that the Torah is teaching us an important lesson in the nature of man; whenever man reaches a level of success, a feeling of "my strength and the power of my hand have acquired this wealth (success) for me" overcomes him and he is reluctant to ascribe his success to G-d, the true source of all his accomplishments. For this reason, the Israelites needed to have a “prayer battalion”, since even though the war was fought for the glory of G-d, when they would emerge victorious, they might still harbor the feeling of "my strength and the power of my hand” brought about this conquest. It was also for this reason that the “prayer battalion” had to be in close proximity to the battlefield, so that the soldiers could see with their own eyes the power of prayer at work, and ascribe their entire success on the battlefield to the prayers of their brothers.
This conviction that prayer works is what needs strengthening in our times. Do we earnestly believe in the power of our own prayers? Do we feel secure that prayer can “turn around” a bad situation?
The Talmud tells us: “Prayer reaches to the very heavens, yet people belittle it”3, because we know that every prayer that is uttered leaves its mark in heaven, but so often it seems that prayers go unanswered, people do not have much value for it.4
The first thing we must know is that G-d created the world with a built-in mechanism that nothing is achieved without praying for it. (A discussion of this concept appears in the Tehilim Hotline Newsletter Print Edition Vol. 3, Issue 1,under the title “The Obligation of Prayer”.) Of course, the first prerequisite for prayer is to have a faith in G-d; otherwise to whom are you praying and who is supposed to answer your prayers?
I heard a charming true story about a young English lad of 8 years of age. Although Jonathan’s family knew their Jewish origins, they had no connection whatsoever with religious life and didn’t know much about G-d and Judaism. Being the youngest of three children, Jonathan’s two older sisters constantly bullied him. He thought to himself “my sisters bother me so much because they are two against one. If I only had a brother then it would be even and they would never start up with us.”
Trying to find a solution to this problem, he hit upon a wonderful idea. Since he didn’t believe in G-d, he “invented” one. The clever lad prayed that his mother should give birth to a baby boy, and to sweeten his dream, (or maybe he wanted to assure himself that it was God’s doing and not by chance that his mother would give birth), he stipulated that his new brother should be born on the day of his own birthday. Jonathan made up his own prayer and proclaimed: “If You grant my request, O G-d, I will be eternally loyal to You and worship You my entire life”. And that is what happened! A little while later his mother became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy! The baby’s birthday though, was several days after Jonathan’s own birthday. It didn’t bother him too much. The important thing is that “G-d” answered him and now he had a brother! It wasn’t long after, that Jonathan pursued the idea of religion and eventually came to bring his whole family to Judaism!
As an adult, he traveled to Israel and upon relating his story to a prominent Rabbi, the Rabbi asked him when his birthday was and after consulting a calendar it was determined that Jonathan’s brother was born on the exact date of his Jewish birthday!
Jonathan is now a popular thought-provoking lecturer on a variety of topics on the fundamentals of Judaism.
The lesson of this story is to believe in the power of prayer. Prayer is not only effective when carried out by men of spiritual greatness. With sincere belief, even a conviction borne out of desperation can bring someone to faith and the realization that only G-d can insure our success.
 Rabbi Chayim Dovid Azulai, known as the Chida.
3 Talmud Bavli, Brachos 6b
4 Meam Loez quoting Yekar Paz