When Silence Means No

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

“Even when you do what you know to be right…, you should feel humility and shame before Hashem.”

(Chouos Halevauos, Gate of Submission to Hashem, ch. 4)

I dumped my pocketbook out on the living room table, sure that the keys would come out of their hiding place, but they didn’t. It’s never good when you forget AMEN (Hebrew acronym for arnak, mafteichos and nayad — wallet, keys and mobile) before you leave the house.

This time it was more than unpleasant. Looking for the keys meant missing the last bus to the community where I was expected to speak. The women who arranged the evening were just beginning their journey toward greater observance, and coming late would potentially enforce some of their hoary old stereotypical images of chareidim.

I looked upward and said, “Hashem, You know where the keys are. If it’s Your will, open my eyes and let me find them.” I then put some money aside for tzedakah, re-examined the table, and found the keys where I must have looked but just not seen them. Hashem literally opened my eyes. I knew that my next response would be crucial.

How are you supposed to respond to an answered prayer?

There are several models. One is to react like an athlete who just broke a record: “Yes, folks, it was a lot of hard work, but I just kept going till I made it to the finish line.” In spiritual terms it might sound like: “I knew that davening would help. It works for me. I really had kavanah. It’s been so much easier since I learned through the sources. It’s just a skill like any other skill; since I mastered it everything is different.”

There are about four unnecessary references to self in this model, and no references to G-d. The subtle transformation of tefillah into what the Gemara calls “iyun tefillah” (Rosh Hashanah 16b) in the negative sense begins with subconsciously removing Hashem from the picture and substituting for it a curious form of self-empowerment. If you ever fall into this trap, try to recall the words spoken at Nachshon Wachsman’s funeral.

Nachshon was nineteen when he was abducted by Arabs on October 11, 1994. From the moment he was kidnapped his parents recognized that their son’s fate was determined by Heaven. Tens of thousands davened for him, including nonreligious mothers who lit Shabbos candles on his behalf.

No one will forget his father’s words to all those who had davened for his safe return: “G-d did listen to your prayers. Sometimes, just as a father would like to always say yes to all his children’s requests, sometimes he must say no, though the child may not understand why. So too our Father in Heaven heard our prayers, and His answer was no.” This response embodied absolute reliance on Hashem as was echoed by the mothers of the three kidnapped boys who unified the entire Jewish people in prayer. The words “regardless of the outcome, I will always have emunah” will never be forgotten.

This mindset leaves you open to make more and more supplications to the only One Who can really help. This is also called iyun tefillah, but it is of course seen as holy rather than at best a first step toward what tefillah is meant to be, or at worst a pathetic capitulation to your ego.

What are the mechanics of tefillah? Why even formulate words when the consequences are determined by Hashem, Who is fully aware of what we need the most?

Ramchal tells us (Derech Hashem, section 4, para. 5) that “In His infinite wisdom, Hashem created the world with rules and with order. One of His rules is that the created beings receive the flow of His goodness by being awakened to draw close to Him. The flow from Above, which descends, is in proportion to the awakening. The L-rd wants to give His creations daily all the goodness that they can receive. It is for this reason that prayer is the way that we draw down His blessing, which is given in accordance with what [His creatures] need, and what their position is in this world.”

Prayer is meant to draw you closer to Hashem. Ego can only take you further away from Him in every sense. When Hashem appeared to Avraham and asked him to leave everything and follow Him to the Land, He made promises. One of them was that He would empower Avraham to be a source of blessing. Avraham was humble enough to receive this gift. You can see this from the way he responded when his own prayers were not answered. He had beseeched Hashem to save at least one of the five metropolises that comprised the territory of Sedom. When his pleas were denied, his response was not anger toward Him, but the words,”I am dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:32).

Avraham was unique in his humility because there is no doubt that had his request been fulfilled, he would have felt the very same way.

Reprinted with permission – Hamodia 18 Tammuz 5774/ July 16, 2014

Visit Rebbetzin Heller’s site at www.tziporahheller.com