Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 26 December 2015 / 14 Tevet 5776

The Weapon of Prayer

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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The prophet Isaiah proclaims in the name of G-d, “Fear not, O worm of Yaakov, O men of Israel, for I help you.” (Yeshayahu 41:14) We also find that King David refers to himself as a worm: “But I am a worm and not a man.” (Tehillim 22:7) Why are King David and the Jewish People referred to as a “worm”? Isn’t this a grave insult?

Our Sages explain that just as a worm does not have anything other than its mouth for its defense, so too, the Jewish People’s only strength is in the prayers offered with the mouth. (Midrash Shocher Tov 22:7) Thus, the implied message of the above verse is that the Jewish People need not fear their enemies when they use their greatest strength, i.e. prayer, since in the merit of this prayer G-d will surely help them to defeat their enemies.

Accordingly, our Sages teach in connection to the verse, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Esav,” that when the voice of the Jewish nation is heard in prayer they will be protected from the hands of Esav, from the enemy’s sword. (Midrash Rabbah 65:20)

The Torah relates to us Moshe’s final battle before he died: “Moshe spoke to the people saying, ‘Arm men from among you for battle… A thousand from each tribe, a thousand from each tribe from all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the battle’.” (Bamidbar 31:3-4) We are taught that the reason why the Torah repeats the command to send a thousand soldiers from each tribe is that there were actually two sets of a thousand from each tribe. One set of soldiers went out and fought the enemies on the battlefield, while the other set stayed in the camp, doing their fighting by means of their prayers. (Bamidbar Rabbah 22:2)

We see that even though the second set of thousand men stayed back, the Torah states that they too were sent to the battle. This teaches us the great importance of prayer. As much as the soldier wielding the sword was considered part of the battle, so too was the person who prayed for him. Thus we find that prayer is likened to a bow and arrow, weapons of war in Targum Onkelus (Ber. 48:22). In fact, the Talmud relates that while the Romans laid siege to the city of Beitar for three and a half years, they were unable to conquer it as long as the holy elder Elazar the Modai prayed for its welfare. (Talmud Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 4:5)

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