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When the Jews were being pursued by the Egyptians at the Yam Suf (sea of reeds), the Pasuk says, “ויצעקו בני ישראל אל ה‘”-they cried out to Hashem in prayer. Rashi, quoting Chazal, says, “תפסו אומנות אבותם“-they used the skill of their forefathers. As we know, the אבות-forefathers constantly prayed. Rabbi Lugasi points out that Chazal here call prayer a “skill.” This teaches us not to think that when a time of need arises, we can just press an automatic “Prayer Button,” and the perfect prayer will come out. Tefila is an acquired skill.
The Torah refers to Tefila as a “weapon,” as it says “בחרבי ובקשתי“-with my sword and my bow. Just as a soldier must train to use his weapon, so too, we must train ourselves in order to receive the full effect from our prayers. Why does Tefila need practice? What is so hard about calling out to Hashem when we need Him? The answer is that the effectiveness of Tefila comes from the recognition that Hashem is the only one who can really help. One of the purposes of the daily prayers is for us to understand how dependent we really are on Hashem. Every time we say, “אתה חונן לאדם דעת“-“You grant wisdom to a person,” we must think, “Hashem gives us our wisdom.” Every wise decision or witty remark we ever made was a gift from Hashem. When we say” ברך עלינו“-we must recognize that every dollar we have is a gift from Hashem. We are nothing. It’s not our smarts or our ability to talk to people that make us money. It is only Hashem. This is not easy to fully believe, because it does not appear that way to us, and the world tells us otherwise.
However, those who really know, come to Hashem as their first option. If they need help, they pray to Hashem first, and only afterward, do they do their regular Hishtadlut. Hashem is everything. The time to work on prayer is during the good times. We should constantly thank Hashem for His blessings and pray that they continue. We should think about the problems in the world and ask Hashem to save us from them. If a person trains himself to see though the falsehood of the world three times a day, then he will become an expert in Tefila. If he is ever in a troubling time, he will know how to use the weapon and pray a powerful Tefila.
When the Jews cried out at Yam Suf and were answered, it was an exception. They were not accustomed to praying. They stumbled on to the skill of their fathers. They had a moment of clarity, where they recognized that they were dependent on Hashem, and that is how they brought about their salvation. However, when prayer inspiration comes like that, it does not last for long. In fact, the very next Pasuk says that the Jews complained to Moshe for taking them out into the desert to die. Someone who really believes that Hashem runs everything doesn’t blame other people. Unfortunately, sometimes we live this contradiction. We say in the Amida, “Hashem, I know You are in charge of my Parnasa.” Yet, during the course of a business day, if someone took away a customer, we might blow up with anger, saying, “How could he do that?” If we were trained properly, we wouldn’t get uptight during the work day. We would say, “Only Hashem is in charge. He wants to bring my Parnasa a different way.”
Sometimes, people need to be reminded how dependent they really are on Hashem, for their own good. This happens when they develop needs that are beyond them to obtain, and they are forced to beg Hashem for help. Nevertheless, we say in the Tefila, “הבוחר בשירי זמרה“-Hashem would rather we come to that recognition another way-through constant praise, recognition and thanking Him for all the blessing He gives us. If we internalize our dependence on Hashem, we will become professional בעלי תפילה-masters of prayer. We will then have acquired a vital weapon that will enable us to obtain all of our needs.
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