26 Sivan 5782
“Granting petitions, not whims”
As I was reading this week’s portion, Shelach Lecha, which means “send for yourself”, I realized how deceitful our intentions are, and how they can negatively affect us. Our intentions can distort and confuse our requests, so we must be wise about what we ask for and why, how we pray and above all, when we pray.
To exemplify the above, Rabbi Yeshua responded to a certain request from his Talmidim described in the books of Mark and Matthew, rebuking them: “You do not know what you are asking for!” And this statement, which is very profound, is still valid today. We have become accustomed to living in a society full of demands upon governments, companies, institutions, parents, each other, etc. where we are clouded by our “rights” that we take for granted.
James said in his letter, ” Or you pray and do not receive, because you pray with the wrong motives, wanting to indulge your own desires” (Yaakov 4:3). Today the requests that we usually hear are those that are taken out of their Biblical context, such as “Call out to Me, and I will answer you” without adding “and I will tell you great things, hidden things, of which you are unaware” (Jeremiah 33:3) or Yeshua saying “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7) Prayers and petitions have turned into demands. This makes me wonder, does our Boreh Olam really owe us, or do we owe Him? I remember being in a church where I heard the reverend say: “Demand God to listen to yourvoice (mine)”, and I asked myself then, can I demand something from the Eternal? isn’t this out of place? It seems that we have turned our prayers into a list of requests for “my, mine, with me, by me, for me, etc.” and what is worse, we are asking Him to satisfy our personal interests, which can play against us.
In fact, this is what our portion is about, our Creator never asked them to send explorers to the land of Israel that He had already delivered at the time of this episode. There are many references to this in Genesis 12:7; 13: 15-17; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3-4; 28:13; 35:12; 48:3-4; 50:24-25; in Shemot 3:7-8; 6:4; 13:5; 23:31; 32:11- 14; 33:1-3; in Bamidbar 34:1-12; 11:10-12; 13:1-2. For example, when you receive a property title, but you have not yet taken possession of that property, the document is already the promise of ownership to you, and what is needed is that we do our part, that is, to sign the documents and accept the ownership. Therefore, we could say that the sending of the explorers was an “unnecessary” act and a “request” granted, which was not a good idea, because God had already given the “property title” to His people; the only thing missing was to take possession of it.
Today, how many prayers are answered favorably by the Eternal, which are not necessarily His will and bring disastrous consequences! I remember friends who had asked God to give them a car. After they got it, in the same car, they crashed and died! Others who asked for prosperous businesses, but they lost their families, or those who asked for a wife according to their “desire”, but their relationship ended in divorce; in short, they did not come out well with everything granted because, as Yaakov explains, they asked to “satisfy their own passions.
The problem with basing our requests on passions is that passion, according to the American Psychological Association, is “an intense, driving, or overwhelming feeling or conviction. Passion is often contrasted with emotion, in that passion affects a person unwillingly; also, it could be intense sexual desire or strong enthusiasm for or devotion to an activity, object, concept, or the like”. Israel, as we see, were passionate about going back to Egypt, as we read in last week’s portion Beha’alotecha, when they wanted return to Egypt because of the desire to “eat meat”, and not “manna”. In fact, Psalm 106 explains the steps Israel took to degrade themselves: V21 “They forgot the God who saved them”; V.24 “They despised the pleasant land”; “they did not believe in the promise of God”; V.25 “They grumbled in their tents” “and they did not obey the LORD” V.28 “they committed idolatry” V.29 “They provoked the LORD with their evil actions” and then we read how they decided to mix, contaminate and emulate the actions of other peoples.
So, the fruits of having made this unnecessary request to Moses was that they spend 40 years wandering in the desert with a generation dying there, as we read in Devarim 1:22 and 1:34-35: “Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us back word of the way by which we must go up, and the cities to which we shall come”, and the consequence of that request was: “And the LORD heard the voice of your words, and was angered, and swore, saying: Surely not one of these men, even this evil generation, shall see the good land, which I swore to give to your fathers.”
If we read carefully, from the beginning Israel saw a way out of not entering the land when it says that they wanted a report of those cities that they “could enter”, after the Eternal had said that all the land (including its cities) would be theirs! In an indirect way, they were despising the Eternal, by implying that “men tell us the route we must follow” when up to that moment, they had seen, from Egypt, that the Eternal was guiding them, without mentioning that “the report of the explorers” would be more valuable than the words and promises of the Eternal from Abraham to that generation…. That is saying that the “opinion of man is more valuable than the words of the Eternal.” How often have I made this same mistake! Reading it, I am no better than that generation, and today it is more subtle, but it is more common to despise the Eternal.
In this same portion, we also read another request granted, that of Moses, when the Eternal tells him that he would make of him a great nation (14:12), and Moshe asks him in 14:19: ” Pardon, I beg you, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, and as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.” What was the difference then between one petition and the other? Moshe did not pray to satisfy his ego, his passions, his emotions, he sought that the will of the Eternal, manifested since Abraham, be fulfilled. If there was no Israel, that promise would not be fulfilled. On the other hand, he approached the Eternal in a very wise and respectful way, remembering that He is good, merciful and acts justly.
The source of all good things comes from God, says Tehilim 81:11, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” but for this we must approach him. Are we ready to present ourselves before the Eternal? Remember what Mishlei 28:9 says: ” He who turns away his ear (which means obey) from hearing the Torah, even his prayer is an abomination” That is, there must be an integration between our actions and requests, because when we follow the Torah, we will know what to ask for, how to ask, and when to ask.
Nowadays, we have three types of prayers; one is thanksgiving, another is the prayer of praise, and finally we have the prayers where we ask for our daily needs. We should not over materialize or over spiritualize our prayers, as Pirkei Avot 3:17 says “If there is no bread, there is no Torah” although it is also written in Devarim 8:3 “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD”. Therefore, there must be a balance between both requests, which are valid.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says that with prayer we become communicable with God, “Prayer is an emanation of what is most precious in us toward Him, the outpouring of the heart before Him. It is not a relationship between person and person, between subject and subject, but an endeavor to become the object of His thought.” He goes on to say “Prayer is an answer to God: “Here am I. And this is the record of my days. Look into my heart, into my hopes and my regrets.” ….. Yet prayer never ends, for faith endows us with a bold craving that He draw near to us and approach us as a father – not only as a ruler. The purpose of prayer is to be brought to His attention, to be listened to, to be understood by Him; not to know Him but to be known by Him.”
In other words, when we pray, we unify Heaven with Earth, that is, we unite our consciousness with our body, to the point that Tehillim 35:10 says, “All my bones shall say: ‘LORD, who is like You…?” At this point our prayer is not only to pray for our soul, but for our entire being, that is, body and soul. Yeshua said: (Matthew 6: 6-8) “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
When you speak with God alone, what do you ask for? Do you unify Heaven with Earth? God is our Father; do you need help? Do you need to be saved from a painful situation, an illness, or an economic problem? Are you dealing with a vice or addiction? Do you need to be pulled out of the pit of despair and anguish? I ask you, what are you waiting for to speak with your kishkes (gut) and with your bones with our Avinu Malkeinu (our Father and King)? How can you present yourself before Him? It’s simple, with justice, with lovingkindness, and by being humble before the Eternal (Micah 6:6-8). The sons of Korach in Psalm 42:8 so beautifully express their request, which is my daily prayer: “By day the LORD will command His lovingkindness, and in the night His song shall be with me—a prayer to the God of my life.” I think that´ is all we need to live a fulfilled life.