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Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” The idea expressed in these famous lyrics is that praising the Lord and indeed merely praying to the Lord is not sufficient. Prayer should be followed with the efforts and actions of human beings in the natural world.

The intelligent person is naturally troubled by the dilemma of God’s place and involvement in the world and in our personal lives. If we are proverbially ‘passing the ammunition’, hoping that our actions will be effective in delivering the desired outcome then why are we praising and praying to the Lord?

Where is His intervention effective and noticed? On the other hand if we are praising the Lord and think this is meaningful and impactful then why ‘pass the ammunition’ why bother with human action and efforts. This is the human dilemma we all confront daily.

Typically we find two solutions to the dilemma. The first is simply that of the atheist. For the atheist there is no divine intervention in our lives. Our actions and their natural consequences are the sole determinants of our success or failure in our endeavors.

On the other extreme we find believers in God who refuse to seek medical advice and medical treatment. Their belief is so firm that they would simply pray to God, believing everything is in God’s control and that human efforts are futile. Most of us are naturally unwilling to assume such a position and view those that do to be a part of an extremist lunatic fringe.

For most rational people that believe in God both of the above approaches are unsatisfactory. We know intuitively that things will not and do not happen on their own without human intervention – so we know we must act, create and do- but if that is the case what is God’s role? Where is he in our lives and our activities?

What is Judaism’s approach in this regard? How does Judaism deal with a world where human action is a prerequisite for results and still find place for God and belief in day-to-day living?

In this week’s Tora Parsha, Sh’lach, God commands the Jewish people to send spies into the land of Israel to examine the most strategic way of conquering the land. God also commanded Noah to build an ark to save him from the impending flood. So it seems God himself commands and requires human action. Again the question cries out – so what is God’s involvement?

The great 13th century sage Rabeinu Bechaye sheds light on this issue in his introduction to this week’s Torah portion. He quotes a verse from King Solomon’s Proverbs “The horse is ready for the day of war and salvation is up to God.” It is interesting to note that this would be the biblical version of “Praise (Pray) the Lord and pass the ammunition” inverted as follows “Pass the ammunition and Praise (Pray) to the Lord”.

When an atheist is confronted with the philosophical challenge of why two individuals exerting the same effort with the same enthusiasm and zeal, in similar situations have different levels of success, they explain it with the concept of luck – simply being in the right place at the right time by random chance. Rabeinu Bechaye answers this philosophical challenge differently. He explains that in fact where nature ends is where miracles (God) begins. Put in different words, the biblical concept is truly that God only helps those who exert normal, nature efforts and take action to help themselves first. For the believer man makes efforts and God determines the success/failure of man’s endeavors. Judaism claims that the place where God’s involvement is most prevalent is the interface between human efforts and their results.

I recently spent some time with an incredibly successful person who in their great humility said to me “let me tell you something, I worked very hard but so did many others, at the end of the day it was a question of luck”. For Rabeinu Bechaye and the believer it was not luck but rather the will of God. God, for whatever reason blessed his hard work and was the interface between his efforts and his success.

Friends, our tradition teaches us that it is God who gives life and energy constantly to all living things and gives them the energy required for action. It appears that our mantra should be “Pray to the Lord, pass the ammunition and pray to the Lord”.

May Hashem bless our handiwork with success.