Beshalach Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
“Pharaoh approached; the Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold – Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to God. They said to Moses, ‘were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the desert’?!” Exodus 14: 10-11
This is admittedly a curious passage. On the one hand, the children of Israel are terrified at the site of the Egyptian army pursuing them and so they cry out to God. But in the very next breath, they complain to Moses! ‘You brought us out to die!’
How is it that prayer and complaint can be so closely expressed by our forefathers?
There is a disquieting truth about prayer, particularly ritual prayer. By reading through established prayers over and over again out of habit, it can be so easy to fall into mindless praying or praying by rote with no internal involvement of the heart; and at times, even of the mind. Ritual prayer can be rattled off with no consciousness of what we are saying. It becomes a major challenge (though not impossible) to pray with meaning and understanding in such a situation.
This is not the way the children of Israel prayed in our text. Theirs was the prayer of turning to the God of Israel as a clear and present danger was barreling towards them. This is the prayer of ‘crying out to God’ in one’s own words, appealing to Him as one would to a best friend or a loved parent. These are the orations that erupt from our inner being, in our own words, with our personal emotions and desires enlivening them.
Prayer is defined as a conversation with God. I doubt that you and I have the exact same conversation with our spouses and/or children every day of our lives. The relationship would soon be boring beyond repair. This is not to say that ritual prayer is all wrong. Not at all! There is a place for it in communal worship and it is important to consciously involve our heart and mind in its utternace.
However, in one’s personal prayer times, spontaneity and creativity in talking with Avinu Malkenu, Our Father, Our King, is more than appropriate. Sharing our heart and our thoughts freely with our God is how we come to experience what the psalmist wrote about: “In Your presence is fulness of joy….”
Crying out to God in times of need gives witness to the truth that He is ultimately the Source of all blessing and protection. But to ‘cry out to God’ and then immediately turn to complaining is a paradox. Yet we dare not point a finger at the children of Israel for we, too, are guilty of the same paradox.
If prayer is anything, it is an expression of FAITH. It gives voice to the inner trust that we have in our God. To pray in one breath and complain in the next is at the very least, hypocritical. Our prayer is best clothed in thanksgiving and the thankful heart finds it difficult to complain!
In Tune with Torah this week = ask yourself: How am I doing in prayer? Is my heart in the words, is my mind turned towards my God? Do I regularly give thanks for all that He has done and continues to do in my life? Am I working at fixing my thoughts on Him?
Prayer is one of the most beautiful of human activities. May it be so for all of us!