In this week’s parsha we begin the world of Korbanot. As a concept, the institution of Korbanot is related to the concept of tefilah which is the subject which I would like to dedicate this shiur to. I am writing this shiur at the end of a very tragic week here in Israel and I hope it reaches you before Wednesday as it has been declared a fast day and a day of tefilah by the Rabanut Harashit.
There is a famous debate between the Rambam, and the Ramban as to the nature of the obligation of prayer. The Rambam lists daily prayer as a mitzvah in his Sefer Hamitzvot based on the obligation of serving Hashem with all “our hearts” which is explained to mean Torah and Tefilah. As such the Rambam believes that tefilah once a day, every day, is a Torah based obligation and one that is required of men and women alike. The subsequent institutions such as time and structure of formal tefilah are of rabbinical obligation.
The Ramban on the other hand maintains that the source cited by the Rambam is only an “asmachtah”- a hint to a rabbinic law in the torah but the actual level of obligation of tefilah is only midrabanan.
The Ramban however claims that there are examples of situations that mandate tefilah on a medioraita, biblical, level. This is based on the pasuk in Behalotcha (Bamidbar 10:9) “If a war comes upon your land and you are oppressed, you should blow the trumpets, and you will be remembered to Hashem and will be saved from your enemy.” The Ramban sees the trumpets as a tool through which tefilah is offered in a method of calling out to Hashem in a similar way in which we generally perceive the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The shofar is both a method of waking the people up in their prayer and a tool of prayer itself. We blow the shofar and the trumpets in a statement of wordless prayer, one not bound by the limiting medium of speech.
The Rambam and Ramban differ in not only a technical way, as to what the source and level of obligation of prayer is but they disagree in a fundamental way in their concept of tefilah itself. The Rambam sees prayer as an everyday event, one that a Jew cannot possibly go without. A Jew cannot live his or her life without consulting God daily, sharing ones thoughts, fears and joys. A Jew is never alone as God is constantly “in the picture”( not only because He really is involved with each and every aspect of our lives but because I make him part of each and every part of my life through my regular conversation with Him during tefilah). The Ramban on the other hand sees tefilah, at least on the Deoriata level, as a crucial tool to be used in times of crisis. In situation such as war or oppression we are told to not only depend on our worldly ways and concentrate on physical problem solving but rather to invoke our rights to call upon Hashem to aid us. As David Hamelech expresses in many of his verses of Tehilim “I raise up my eyes to the mountains…from where will my salvation come? My salvation will come form Hashem”. The Jew in a time of crisis does what human nature so often dictates, a primeval call to our parents for help, as Jews we call out to Avenu Malkenu our Father and our King.
The implications of this great debate are varied and reach into not only halachic discussions but into philosophical ones as well. How are we to view ourselves vis a vis the events that surround us? How are we meant to approach Hashem? Are we to believe that our prayers have the ability to make changes in Divine plans?
As I write this shiur I am consumed by the irrelevance of the debate for me today. I have made the previous points many times in the past and many of you reading this have heard me discuss this issue. In the past the context was how to relate to prayer as an everyday experience. How can I have what to talk to God about three times a day? How can the Rambam be so demanding on us? Today I have no such questions. Shacharit is an opportunity to thank Hashem for the numerous miracles that I heard about on the short news broadcast on the way to shull and to truly ask for a day that will bring with it life. As the time for Mincha approaches, a few hours later, it seems to have been an eternity since I last had a chance to “check back with Hashem” as to how the day has been going; and on some tragic days it forms the framework for heart wrenching tefilah for our brothers and sisters who have been struck by ruthless terrorists with no concern for life and human dignity. Maariv follows later in the evening as the days turbulent events are being summed up and in the dark of night I turn to God and, without any trouble mustering Kavanah, state “Hashkevenu Hashem Elokenu leshalom, vehaamedenu malkenu lehayim” “Lay us down to sleep Hashem our God in peace and raise us up our King to life.”
Lately I have been davening, daily, “with” not only the Rambam but with the Ramban as well. Tefilah with a sense of urgency and importance that is usually reserved for Yom Kippur. The emotions present as the clock ticks away nearing the end of the holiest day of the year are ones of immediacy and intimacy. Hakadosh Baruch “waits” for our tefilot, those tefilot that we say out of pure conviction. Tomorrow, Wednesday Adar 29, is Yom Kippur Katan. A day that will be observed in and out of Israel as a fast day and a day of Tefilah. As the day draws to an end the Kotel plaza will fill with the thousands who have come to call out to Hashem in an attempt to make a real difference in the world. We will hear the Chatzotrot, the trumpets, being blown and we will say selichot, we will in a very simple way cry out to Hakadosh Baruch Hu as our Father to help us in our time of need.
Let us not forget the experience of Yom Kippur, the Rashi quoted by Rav Milston prior to Neilah every year telling us that there is absolutely nothing that can stand in the way of sincere tefilah, the pleading the thirteen midot of rachamim and the sincere, very true feeling, that it is all up to us to make a difference with the help of Hashem.
I ask you all wherever you may be to make it a Yom Kippur as well. For those of you in Israel now I have no doubt as to plans, for those further away understand that this is about all of us together, as we end the tefilah with Shma Yisrael, Baruch Shem and Hashem Hu Haelokim you would not like to find yourself “too busy” to have participated in this.
The Torah tells us that the trumpets were blown on many different occasions. As we have discussed they were sounded during times of war and served to rally the people to summon Hashem in our time of need. As well they were used to alert the people of the traveling of the camp, as Am yisrael made their way to Eretz Yisrael the sound of the trumpets signaled a step in the right direction, one move closer to home. I hope that the sound of the chatzotrot of tomorrow will bring the same feeling to many of you. It is time to break camp and to travel following the Shechina to Eretz Yisrael.
Finally I am confident that tomorrows chatzotrot will beckon yet another sounding of the chatzotrot as sated in the pasuk (Bamidbar 10:10) “On your joyous occasions and your holidays and on Rosh Chodesh you shall blow the trumpets upon the bringing of the Olah and the Shlamim and you will be remembered before Hashem- I am Hashem your God”
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov
“b’nissan negalu ub’nissan atidin legael”- “They were redeemed in Nissan and they will be redeemed in Nissan”