O that my tongue were in the thunder’s mouth! Then with passion would I shake the world… — William Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John (Constance at III, iv)
In a few days, Jews of all backgrounds, all around the globe, will congregate in synagogues and temples to fast and pray to God on what is undoubtedly the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. It is a day exclusively devoted to prayer and introspection. There are no festive meals. There are no other ritual obligations beyond fasting and praying.
However, all the praying can lead one to an old question of why pray in the first place. God, who is all-powerful and all-knowing, knows what we want and what we need. He has the ability to provide for our every need. We shouldn’t have to ask. And if for some reason we’re not deserving of having our wants or needs fulfilled, then how will prayer help?
Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 31:14 explains that the answer depends on what it is we’re asking for. He claims that for most things, just thinking about our needs will lead God to fulfill them, as the verse states, “He performs the will of those who fear Him.” (Psalms 145). Just formulating the thought in our mind as something we need (assuming it’s a real need and not just a desire), encourages God to telepathically draw that thought from our minds and convert it, in His own way and time, into reality.
However, Rabbeinu Bechaye claims that there are three particular areas where merely thinking doesn’t do the job. He says that we need to scream to God. We need to pray to God with such passion and fervor that in a sense God won’t have a choice but to at least listen to us, if not actually answer our prayers. The three areas that require loud, passionate, vocal prayers are for children, for life and for sustenance. The ability to have children, the length of one’s life and the availability of one’s sustenance require more significant divine intervention. It seems that in these three departments there is some predetermined fate. That fate can be changed, but it requires massive spiritual effort.
We need to storm God’s castle with our prayers to effect any change in these three categories. There is a license to scream to God, to plead for mercy, to fulfill our deep need for children, life and sustenance.
May we have the courage, wisdom and strength to voice our prayers, loudly, clearly, meaningfully – and may they be answered with health, with bounty, with joy, happiness and blessings for the entire House of Israel.
Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova,
To a Rosh Hashana with the whole family together.