This week I would like to present a question instead of a shiur (I began to write the shiur and found that my question was better than any of the answers that I came up with, so I wanted your help. I will be happy to post the responses to the list).
We find certain patterns throughout the makot. The various commentaries have already noted those that occurred in certain places, or by certain methods and those that started or ended with special intervention and those that just ended on “their own”. I would like to focus on the prayers of Moshe Rabenu in the context of the makot.
In four of the makot, Moshe is asked by Pharaoh to pray for him, and he does.
There are two issues that I would like to raise:
If we look at the words used we find that the verb for praying is of the root ATR that I think is best translated to mean “plead”. This is not the most common verb used when it comes to describing prayer in the Torah. In fact, besides the makot, where the word appears each and every time; the only other place that it appears is the start of Parshat Toldot (Breishit 25/21) describing Yitzchak’s prayer for a child. The Torah uses a large variety of verbs to describe prayer in many different places, why is it that this specific and unique form is used here?
The root ATR does appear in other places in Nach, however when compared to the other options such as teffila, tzeaka, techina, etc.. the question remains, what is the significance of this word?
To make it a little more challenging I think it important to note what the “answer” to such a prayer is called. If we go back to the prayer of Yitzchak we find that Hashem answered him. The Torah describes this as “vayeatar”. The same ATR root is used in the reflexive manner. This, as far as I can tell, is the only type of prayer that has such an answer. (To clarify this point the “answer” to “teffila” is “kabbalah” or “shmea”, all different verbs from the original request).
II- The content
The second thing that disturbed me was the actual need for Moshe’s prayers. Pharaoh obviously thought that he desperately needed Moshe’s prayers. He was in a state of panic with his entire country literally falling apart around him and very little control over the situation. His call to Moshe and use of the term ATR (which seems to be a very powerful type of teffila) seems very natural.
Let’s think about Moshe’s side of the story. Why does Moshe seem to take things so seriously? I would have imagined Moshe being able to report back to Hashem that the lesson had been learned, the plague had achieved its goal and now could be removed. Moshe, one of the greatest men of prayer in all of history, didn’t need to use any of his “prayer powers” at all. The plagues were not supposed to last forever, they were not designed to destroy Egypt, they were meant to force Pharaoh’s hand into freeing the Jews.
I understand the request for teffila by Pharaoh but Moshe, himself, should not have been particularly moved by the whole scene.
If we look at the pesukim we find Moshe taking the endeavor very seriously indeed. In last week’s parsha we find the phrase “vayitzak” he “screamed out” which indicates a very intense teffila. After the Barad we find Moshe with his hands outstretched in teffila. This is well known to us from the war with Amalek at the end of next week’s parsha. Moshe uses this as the ultimate teffila, his outstretched arms signal actual wining of the battle, as oppsed to the lowered hands which mean defeat.
Moshe is described each time he prays as ATR. It seems that it is not only Pharaoh that sees the importance and need of such a focused and critical teffila but it is Moshe as well.
In short, I would like to know why Moshe felt it necessary to embark on such an intense teffila experience and I would like to understand the significance of the type of teffila that is being described in these parshiot.
As I wrote above, please send me your ideas, and unless you tell me otherwise I might send them out to the list (if you want to be anonymous we can do that to). So print this for your Shabbat table and let me know what you think.