Lazer Gurkow

Just ask

We often tell people who are in need that all they need to do is ask. It is surprising to realize how often people want something and don’t think to ask. They assume others will realize their need and will offer to help. If no one offers, they assume no one cares. Now that they are convinced no one cares, they are too shy or too scared to ask.

Think of those who are offended by their friends and retreat into a corner hoping someone will notice and come after them. She sits there lonely until she realizes that no one is coming and then, her heart broken, she limps out. It is really very simple. She doesn’t need to wait for her friends to come to her. All she needs to do is ask, and her friends would come willingly.

Her friends like her and enjoy her company. Her friends simply don’t know that she is in need. No one ever told them. Sometimes, her friends do know but are unsure about whether to approach. After all, if she wanted us to approach, she would have said something. The friends think she doesn’t want them, and she thinks her friends don’t want her. What a confusion. Just ask!

But that is easier said than done when you don’t have the courage to ask. If you don’t know that you have your friends’ permission to ask, asking can feel awkward and vulnerable.

With G-d
This is what happens sometimes between us and G-d. Sometimes we are suffering and need G-d’s intervention. We know He loves us, but we figure that if He wanted to help us, He would have done it on His own. If He chooses not to help us, we feel awkward asking for His help. Yet sometimes that is precisely what G-d wants. He isn’t withholding His help because He doesn’t want to extend it. He withholds His help because He wants us to ask for it. He wants to hear our prayers.

Abraham and Sarah as well as Isaac and Rebecca were barren in their youth. Our sages taught that G-d was waiting for them to pray for children. Sometimes He withholds just because He wants us to ask. We need to remember this in times of need. Telling G-d what we need, isn’t blasphemous. It doesn’t assume that He doesn’t know. It assumes that He wants to hear it from us. When He hears it, He steps in to help.

This is what occurred to our ancestors in Egypt. They had been in bondage for many years and conditions were constantly deteriorating. At one point, things got so bad that they started to cry. “It came to pass in those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel groaned from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to G-d.”[1] All they did was cry out, but that was enough. Their cry ascended to G-d. G-d immediately instructed Moses at the burning bush to redeem them from Egypt.

All they had to do was ask. Asking was not blasphemous. It was simply all G-d wanted.

Why Now?
So why did they wait until this point? Why didn’t they ask earlier?

The simple answer is that they had reached their tipping point. Our sages tell us that the Egyptians began to slaughter the Jewish infants so that Pharaoh could bathe in their blood. As horrific and disgusting as this sounds, Pharaoh was actually advised to do this by his cruel physicians in a bid to heal his skin lesions. This was too much for the Jewish parents and they finally cried out.

But one rabbi offered a deep and profoundly moving answer to our question. If you read the text carefully, you will see that they cried out after Pharaoh’s death. They had thought that with Pharaoh’s death, their load would be lightened, but it didn’t. This made them groan and cry out. It was not the increased labor that caused them to cry out but the dashed hope.

A Glimpse of Salvation
After decades in slavery, many Jews stopped dreaming for a better life. They reconciled with their situation and expected this to be their lot. They were born into slavery, and like their fathers before them, they would die as salves. They never cried out because they never expected better.

Then came the big moment. Pharaoh died and a spark of hope ignited in every Jewish heart. They saw a faint point of light in their dark pit, and they dared to hope. It was more than hope. They dared to think of themselves as free men. They dared to dream of liberty. When this point of light was extinguished, they groaned. The flickering hope that inspired them to cling to life had been dashed. The momentary glimpse of freedom made them realize the intensity of their subjugation. The circumstances to which they had grown accustomed were suddenly choking the life out of them. They realized how horrific their situation truly was.

In Our Lives
Many of us are saddled with various handicaps from birth or from youth that we carry with us through life. Sometimes we don’t even notice that we are handicapped. We have lived with our handicaps all our lives and have grown accustomed to them. We assumed they were normal.

Some people are deathly afraid of admitting guilt and offering apologies because their parents were harsh on them when they did something wrong. Some of us are too scared to admit that someone hurt us because we are afraid that we will be ridiculed for being overly sensitive. Some of us have testy relationships with our parents and we simply accept it as the norm.

We are aware of our handicaps, but we don’t know that life can be better. We assume that this is how it is meant to be. We might even assume that it is the same for everyone around us. We are in the darkness, and we think it is light. Our circumstances are insane, and we think they are normal. Until one day, we get a glimpse of someone else who is free of our handicap, and it dawns on us that we are different.

We finally realize that something is wrong, and it begins to bother us. Because we caught a glimpse of a life free of these burdens, we realized how heavy our burdens are. We realized how desperately we want to be free.

Though this moment feels darker than before, the truth is that this is precisely when the light begins to shine—when liberty is at hand. Before we were in the dark and we didn’t even know it. We didn’t know what light looks like. Now we caught a glimpse of the light, and we want it. Now that we want it, we can reach for it. We can go to therapy; we can begin the long process of healing until we experience our own liberty. But it can’t happen unless we ask, and we don’t ask unless we know we have something to ask for.

The same is true with respect to Mashiach. We can be so comfortable without Mashiach that we think life is good in the Diaspora. We are wealthy, happy, and surrounded by family and friends; we seemingly lack for nothing. If we lack for nothing, we don’t ask for anything. But when we learn how much better life can be with Mashiach, we realize how desperately we want Him. And when we want him, we will ask for him, cry for him, plead for him, and pray for him with sincerity. And G-d will respond.[2]

[1] Exodus 2:23.

[2] Based on Sefas Emes Shemos 5656.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at