The New Shul

Parshat Vayera

This week’s parashah, Vayera, tells the story of the banishment of Hagar and her son Yishmael from Avraham’s camp. When Hagar lost her way in the desert and ran out of water, she gave up hope. But “God heard the voice of the child and God called to Hagar. . . ‘Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the child.'”

The passage is confusing because, up until this point, the Torah has said nothing about the child having cried out in the first place. So what is it that God heard?

Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Warka explained that there is a cry within each of us that is deeper than words, deeper than sound altogether. It is a cry that only God can hear. It penetrates the heavens in a way that language cannot.

When we try to pray, we often feel held back by language. The words of the siddur, and even our own private words, often feel inadequate. When that happens, it may be because we ask too much of language, because we assume that words are — or should beprayer. Rabbi Menahem Mendel reminds us that words are just a tool, a means to unlock the deeper voice inside us. It is that deeper voice that is the essence.

Perhaps by asking less of language, we can help it to do its job. May the words of the siddur, and those that we add to it, help to give voice to the deeper prayer within each one of us.

  • The New Shul’s Shabbat services are on Friday evenings from 6 to 7 pm, and on Saturday mornings from 9 am to 12 noon. This Shabbat, October 27, we will celebrate the bar mitzvah of Isaac Don, son of David and Rachael Don. The kiddush-lunch will be sponsored by the Don family.
  • Minyanim during the week are on Sunday mornings at 9:30 am, and on Monday and Wednesday evenings at 7 pm.