I was almost finished writing when my son-in-law sent me a piece from the Forward titled, Prayer Won’t #BringBackOurBoys. (http://forward.com/articles/200199/prayer-wont-bringbackourboys/?p=all#ixzz350UCzAgo) That piece, I believe, misrepresents what prayer is, and in the process undermines a critical component of our collective efforts on behalf of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad. I had originally intended this piece to be a personal reflection on my own struggle with prayer in the context of this horrific assault on three boys, three families and the people of Am Yisroel. Since reading the piece in the Forward, I have added a few sentences that are meant to present what I think is a more accurate picture of how Jews and Judaism understand and relate to prayer.
When you listen to the parents of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad speak, two things come through consistently and strongly. One is their deep gratitude to the government and the soldiers who are doing all they can to bring their sons home safely. The other is their unwavering faith in the power of Jewish prayer, love and unity.
There is no doubt in my mind that each soldier is striving to do his or her absolute best to find the boys. Like most of you, I am praying, but I feel challenged to pray in a way that I have never prayed before, and I’m struggling with that.
The Night Our Daughter Went Missing
One of our daughters had a summer job on Capital Hill as a congressional intern. At the end of the summer, she was going out with a number of intern friends for a fun evening. My wife and I and our other children were at the Maryland State Fair. We tried calling her a few times, but no answer. She is a very responsible person and it was unlike her not to be in touch. By the time we got home it was already quite late, she still wasn’t answering her phone, and she had failed to return to her Aunt’s house in Alexandria where she was staying. We called the police and even reached the Congresswoman she was working for: nothing. She had disappeared. That’s when I totally freaked out. I told my wife and the other kids to start praying their hearts out, I was leaving for Washington. “But Shimon, where are you going?” “I have no idea, but somebody has her and I’m driving those streets until I find her.” Then, just before I walked out the door, the phone rang, and I heard my daughter’s voice. She was okay, and I sobbed into the phone.
I will never forget the feeling of thinking that someone had abducted my daughter. Without a doubt, what I felt that night was not even the slightest fraction of what Eyal, Gil’ad and Naftali’s parents are feeling.
Obviously we can’t feel what they are feeling, but I can’t help but ask myself, am I truly taking this to heart the way I ought to? Has it shaken me to my core that three Jewish boys are being held captive by people capable of the most barbaric acts imaginable?
And so I ask myself, have I prayed yet, really?
Yes, I’ve prayed; alone, in a minyan, and surrounded by thousands at the Western Wall—I’ve even cried—but I know I haven’t yet prayed, really prayed.
Prayer: From Egypt to Nof Ayalon
The Torah tells us that in Egypt the Jewish people, “Screamed, and their pleading went up to God.” And God Himself tells Moses, “And I have heard their screams …”
The Jewish people have responded to the kidnapping in two ways: with war and with prayer. Both are classic Jewish responses, and in-fact, the two together are quintessentially Jewish. As Jews, we believe that just as God has endowed us with great talents and abilities to make a difference with our actions, He has also given us a profound and powerful spiritual tool that works hand-in-hand with our more physical efforts. That tool, that koach, is called koach ha-tefillah, the power of prayer. Though prayer works differently than a night vision scope, a soldier searching a house, or a brilliantly designed drone—and by nature does not work in a way that we can verify—nonetheless, every whispered prayer, like every step a searching soldier takes, is part of the grand effort that we are all part of.
As For Me …
It is impossible to listen to Rachel Frenkel speak about how much she and her husband and the other parents “just want to hug our children,” and how grateful they are for all of the prayers, and not be moved to tears. But again I ask myself: “The soldiers are doing everything they can with their abilities and their specialized training—as well as with their prayers—but what about me? While it may seem that there is nothing I can do “practically” to help, Jewish belief and tradition asserts that I am capable of making a real and direct contribution to the potential success of what I believe is a collective mission to #BringBackOur Boys.
And so I ask myself, am I doing the best I can with the weaponry I have? The weapon called prayer.
So here is what I am going to do, I hope.
- Pray like a Breslover. The followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, known as Breslover Chassidim, spend an hour a day, often in the woods, talking with, and even screaming out, to God. I’m going to try this, at least once.
- Bring Back My Son. I pray three times a day, usually with a minyan. I am sure that if those boys were my sixteen-year-old son Baruch and his friends David and Ziv, that everyone in every minyan I pray in would know I was a father, or perhaps an uncle, of one of the boys. So hopefully, at least once a day, I’m going to picture Baruch and David and Ziv in my mind, and beg.
- Lose sleep. Every night when I go to sleep, as I’m lying in bed, I’m going to say the names of Gilad Michoel, Yaacov Naftali and Eyal over and over and over until I fall into a sleep that hopefully won’t come easy.
- You tell me. I know that virtually all of you are praying, and I’d like to hear what strategies you have for making your own prayers as powerful as they can be.
King David tells us that God is close to all those who cry out to Him, b’emet; in truth, in a way that is real. Jews everywhere are praying. We believe in prayer. We believe in the power of prayer. The boys parents and relatives and neighbors have made it very clear to the rest of us that they believe in the power of prayer, our prayers; they believe that it is giving their boys strength, they believe that it makes a difference, they believe …