A guest post by Rabbi Aaron Fink (my father), Dean of Ateres Bais Yaakov on Monsey NY. Part of a weekly Dvar Torah (Torah “Thought”) series.
The Power of Prayer
Parshas Mikeitz is chock full of vital yesodos for the ages. From the rags to riches saga of Yosef Hatzadik’s ascent to power as the viceroy of Egypt to the ten tribes search for their long lost brother, inspiring details of Hashgacha Pratis unfold before our eyes. So many deep lessons jump off the pages of our Chumashim that some of the subtle insights can get lost. One such message is found in the dialogue between Yaakov Avinu and Yehuda, as Yehuda implores Yaakov Avinu to entrust his youngest brother, Binyomin, to his care so that they can get food in Egypt.
At that moment, Yaakov Avinu was frightfully worried about what would befall Binyomin. He saw the prospects as alarmingly bleak. Indeed, Yosef was gone and Shimon, if alive, was languishing in a dungeon somewhere in Egypt. Bereft of nevuah, due to his profound sadness, Yaakov felt all alone. He wondered, what promise could the future hold? What could he do to assure that tragedy would not befall his beloved Binyomin? Though Yehuda was persuasive in trying to reassure his father that Binyomin would be safe with him, Yaakov Avinu was not convinced. But with the hunger taking its toll, despite his misgivings, Yaakov reluctantly agrees to allow Binyomin to travel with his brothers to Egypt under Yehuda’s watchful eye. And Yaakov Avinu conceives a plan. He instructs his sons to package the delicacies of Canaan, honey, nuts, spices and almonds, as a gift for the powerful viceroy. He insists that they return the money found in their sacks as soon as they arrive. Perhaps this will appease the ill tempered keeper of the Egyptian storehouse. What else could he do, to be reunited with Shimon and to assure the safe passage of Binyomin to and from Mitzrayim? From where else could he draw strength?
And then it hits him, as it impacts all who find themselves “mimaakim,” at very depths of frustration and despair, He cast his eyes to Shamayim and davens. Indeed, the the Torah tells us that Yaakov blessed his sons, v’Keil Shakkai yiten lachem rachamim – May Hashem Yisborach grant you mercy in the eyes of this feared man you are about to greet. And Yaakov continues, v’shilach lachem es achichem acher v’es Binyomin – may Hashem send you Shimon the other and Binyomin (so that you can return with them to me). It is interesting to note that Chazal teach us that Yaakov prophesized but did not know it. The word acher in the aforementioned posuk is referencing Yosef who is soon to be reunited with his father.
The text and context is profound. When Yosef was sent to seek his brothers, there was no mention of tefilla. Soon thereafter, he is sold. When the brothers embark on a journey to purchase food in Mitzrayim, again there is no mention of prayer, and Shimon is taken hostage. Without G-d in the picture, enriching and safeguarding each step along the way, anything can (and often does) happen. Now with the final blow seemingly so near and Yaakov Avinu at wits end, he davens and everything “just happens” to work out.n
This message should not be lost on us. Without prayer, all is lost. It is tefilla which energizes our dreams and animates our hopes for tomorrow. Davening brings Hashem Yisborach more closely into our lives and gives us the meaning we so yearn for. If we daven, we might even prophesize – although we don’t know it. So strong is the power of prayer. But we need not wait till we are desperate to activate its power.
In many ways, it is prayer that is the very essence of our Chanuka celebrations. The Maccabim’s cry of mi laHashem aili was not only a battle call – it was a tefilla. The lighting of a menorah with enough oil for only one day was not merely an act of re-dedicating and consecrating the Bais Hamikdash, it was heartfelt prayer to our Master on High to renew His profound ahava with His people once again. This is why we emphasize in Al Hanissim thrice daily and in our bentching that the Chanuka holiday is “l’hodos ulihallel” – to give thanks and praise – through prayer to the Ribbono Shel Olam. It is He who is the source of all goodness and it He who quests for our tefilos. We can take advantage of this moment so ripe for prayer to bring ourselves closer to the Ribbono Shel Olam and with His help, may we merit shiyamelu mishalos libeinu l’tova! Chag Urim Sameach!