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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Beha'aloscha 5773 "Who You Gonna Call"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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In December 1944, the retreating Nazi forces launched a surprise counter-offensive against the Allied forces in Europe. During that time there was relentless inclement weather, including fog, clouds, and rain. The United States troops could not use any air-support and the German advance was very successful. At that point the weather was a critical factor.

United States General, George Patton, telephoned the Third Army Chaplain and asked him if he had a “good prayer for weather”, because, “we must do something about those rains if we are to win the war".

The following is the prayer composed by the Third Army Chaplain:

"Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations."

After Patton read the prayer he immediately ordered that 250,000 copies be printed and disseminated to every soldier in the Third Army.

On December 20, 1944 - to the consternation of the Germans and the surprised delight of the American forecasters who predicted continued inclement weather, the rain suddenly ceased and the fog lifted. For the better part of a week there were clear skies and perfect flying weather. The American jets roared across the sky bombing hundreds of German tanks, killing thousands of enemy troops, and effectively halting the enemy advance, as they scrambled futilely to bring up reinforcements.

General Patton prayed for fair weather for Battle. He got it.[2]

Prayer is undoubtedly of the most fundamental and basic tenets of any religion, and G-d hearkens to all sincere prayers. “For My house, ‘A House of Prayer’ it shall be called for all nations.[3]” How much more does any believing Jew recognize the centrality that tefillah has in his life.

Rambam’s opinion (Maimonides)[4] is that prayer is biblically mandated, based on the verse “To serve Him with all of your heart[5]”, which obligates a person to pray to G-d every day. However, there is no definitive requisite amount of prayers that must be recited. The obligation is simply to pray to G-d, and in order to fulfill that obligation even the shortest prayer would suffice.

Ramban[6] (Nachmanides) disagrees. In his opinion prayer is generally only Rabbinically mandated, with one notable and important exception. In the event that one finds himself in a perilous and distressful situation, at that moment he is Biblically mandated to pray to G-d for assistance and salvation. Particularly during a time of vulnerability one must demonstrate unyielding faith that only G-d can truly deliver him in his hour of need.

Ramban derives his position from the verse, “When you go to wage war in your Land against an enemy who oppresses you, and you shall sound short blasts of the trumpet, and you shall be remembered before Hashem, your G-d, and you shall be saved from your foes.[7]” Just as they were obligated to blow trumpets during times of distress, so are we obligated to call out to G-d during moments of fear and uncertainty “so that our eyes and hearts will be unto Him alone, like a servant’s eyes are to his master.”

Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[8] noted that the Ramban’s ruling has an important practical halachic ramification. For example, if one has completed davening shacharis and while driving to work he feels a frighteningly intense pain, or he encounters traffic on his way to an important meeting, according to Ramban[9] at that moment he is Biblically obligated to say a short prayer to G-d for Divine assistance[10].

Those who were close with the Brisker Rav, Rav Velvel Soloveitchik zt’l[11], related that he would often state the verse “Lishuascha kivisi Hashem - For your salvation do I long, Hashem[12]”, even in the middle of a meeting with someone.

Rav Pinkus explained that the Brisker Rav was legendary for his extreme punctiliousness and meticulousness in regards to every iota of halacha. Therefore, if he felt the slightest tinge of discomfort he was stringent (in accordance with the view of the Ramban) and immediately recited a prayer. Even when consulted with for advice the Brisker Rav was so concerned that his response should be beneficial to the questioner that – mid conversation – he would stop to utter a momentary prayer to G-d that He put the right words in his mouth.

In a similar vein, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l[13] explained that the Rambam and Ramban are not necessarily arguing. Both Rambam and Ramban regard prayer as Biblically mandated only in a time of ‘tzara’ (distress). Rambam understood that daily life, as well as our daily responsibilities and pursuits, are stressful and challenging. Feelings of angst, despair, meaninglessness, and lack of fulfillment are all par for the course of our daily struggles.

Rambam views ‘tzarah’ not merely as a state of external constriction or oppression, but even in regards to one’s inner fears and internal struggles, and the discomfiture of his soul. Thus, Rambam may well agree with Ramban that one is only obligated to pray in a time of distress, but Rambam is emphatic that such distress is part and parcel of our daily lives.

Rav Pinkus zt’l[14] explained that when praying during times of distress, most people focus deeply on the extent of their need. A little bit of kavanah (concentration) is expressed with a sentiment of “I kind of want it”, while a lot of kavanah is expressed with a sentiment of “I really need it badly.” In that sense intensifying kavanah implies intensifying one’s focus on what he needs. In fact, one could pray the entire Shmoneh Esrei in this vein. “Hashem, I really need understanding so I could learn Torah and do my work properly…. I really need my sick relative to feel better… I really need to make more money this month…”

But that is not what true kavanah is about. True kavanah is about communicating with G-d. It’s about knowing that you are speaking to a true and live G-d who is listening to every word you utter. The world and all of its resources are in His control, and He is the only one who can truly disseminate at will. During prayer our focus should be completely on Him: “Hashem, You are the healer of all flesh. You have six billion people in Your world and You love me. Only you have the ability to grant me the blessing of health.”

The more one strengthens his awareness of G-d the greater His kavanah. Thus, Kavanah is the result of deeply-rooted emunah, and, in turn, emunah is fostered when one has kavanah.

The daughter of a Rebbe of mine was a young mother with an infant son when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor a few years ago. The doctors informed the family that she had to undergo immediate treatments.

My Rebbe was put in touch with Mr. Benny Fisher, the legendary community-activist in Eretz Yisroel who is very familiar with doctors and treatment plans. My Rebbe explained the situation to Mr. Fisher and sent him the MRI results. Mr. Fisher then informed my Rebbe that there was a hospital in Pittsburgh which he felt confident had the best resources to treat her tumor.

However, my Rebbe was also informed that he should consult with Mr. Shuki Berman, a community activist in America. Mr. Berman suggested that she go to a hospital in Seattle, Washington to undergo treatment.

It was a terrible predicament. His daughter’s life was at stake but how could they know how to proceed.

My Rebbe went to discuss the matter with his Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita. After Rav Shmuel heard the predicament he dolefully admitted that he did not know what to reply. They agreed that his only recourse was to visit the nearby graves of his parents to daven that they intercede on his behalf.

When he arrived at their graves he stood in front of them alone and cried out, “Mom and Dad, I have no idea what to do and I need your help. Your granddaughter has a tumor and we have two treatment options and have no idea which to choose. Please go to the Kisei Hakavod[15] and beg Hashem to send us a sign as to which hospital we should choose.”

When he finished davening he got back into his car and began driving down the windy cemetery roads towards the exit. Before he left the cemetery (!) his cell phone rang. It was Benny Fisher. He informed my Rebbe that he did not know why but he had decided to return to the hospital to review her ‘tick’ - the file which held her MRI and other information. After doing so he decided that she needed a more aggressive treatment plan, which they would find under the care of a specialist who worked in the hospital… in Seattle.

With the help of Hashem, his daughter went to Seattle and underwent treatments. It was a long and difficult road, but she has since been given a clean bill of health and has been blessed with the birth of two more children.

“You shall sound the trumpet and be remembered”

“For your salvation do I long, Hashem”

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[1] Based on derasha given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beha’aloscha 5773 (as well as the Model Lesson I delivered to the fifth grade students at Ashar – June 2012)

[2] The True Story of the Patton Prayer- by Msgr. James H. O'neill

[3] Yeshaya 56:7

[4] Sefer Hamitzvos, Mitzvas Asei 5

[5] Devorim 11:13

[6] Glosses to Sefer Hamitzvos

[7] Bamidbar 10:9

[8] She’arim B’tefillah (“Bitzur”)

[9] The Chinuch (mitzvah 433) rules in accordance with the Ramban

[10] The only question is what defines a moment of distress which would warrant the biblically mandated prayer

[11] 1886-1959

[12] Bereishis 49:18

[13] Reflections of the Rav

[14] Nefesh Shimshon - Emunah

[15] G-d’s Heavenly Throne

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