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When more than Prayer is Required

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Jewish people are trapped between Pharaoh’s mighty army and the Reed Sea. They call out to God in prayer and then lodge a complaint against Moses for putting their lives in danger. Moses assures them that God will save them and continues calling out to God in prayer.

God then says to Moses: “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel.” (Exodus 14:15) God instructs Moses to stop praying and instruct the Jewish people to travel into the Reed Sea. God’s response is difficult to understand. We are commanded to pray in times of crisis, yet God asks Moses why he is praying?

Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar (Ohr Hachaim), based on the Zohar and Midrashim, explains that the Jewish people were being judged in heaven at that moment. The Jewish people, themselves, were still steeped in idolatry and, therefore, the prosecution had a powerful case. The Jewish people needed to empower the defense (God’s attribute of mercy).

Our Sages teach us that good deeds (especially exceptional actions) have the power to arouse God’s mercy in judgement. When human beings go above and beyond, justice dictates that they are to be judged above and beyond regular standards. God, therefore, advised Moses that what was needed in this situation was exceptional good deeds. The Jewish people need an exceptional action. God advised that proceeding towards the water (with faith and trust in God) was the exceptional action required for a meritorious judgement and, therefore, to merit the miraculous parting of the Reed Sea.

While prayer is critical and incredibly powerful, good deeds, and especially tremendous acts of faith and kindness, should accompany our prayers. The Chofetz Chaim, in his work Ahavat Chessed, quotes many sources from the Talmud and Midrashim showing that acts of loving kindness result in God judging us with loving kindness and compassion.

Let us strengthen our prayers, our acts of loving kindness, and strengthen our faith and trust in God. In that merit, God will bring redemption to us, Am Yisrael, and the entire world, soon in our days. Amen!