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 exactly did God hear?

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

His message offers us a lesson about prayer. When we try to pray, we often get stuck on the words. They feel wrong, or at best inadequate. But the true problem may be something different — that we are making the wrong assumptions about what prayer is in the first place. We are assuming that prayer is, in essence, about words, and that leads us to put too much pressure on language. Rabbi Menahem Mendel reminds us that, in the end, prayer is not about the words that we recite. They are just a tool to unlock our deeper voice.

Perhaps by asking less of language, by remembering that words are not the essence, we can help them to do their job: to serve as vessels to express the deeper prayer within each one of us.

  • Candle lighting this Friday evening November 11 is at 5:09 pm. Shabbat ends on Saturday night at 6:05 pm.
  • The New Shul’s Shabbat morning service is from 9 to about 11:45 am, followed by a kiddush-lunch open to all. This Shabbat, November 12, the kiddush-lunch is sponsored by Sarit Zerem and Noam Haviv.
  • Minyanim during the week are on Sunday mornings at 9:30 am, and on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings at 6:30 pm. Kabbalat Shabbat is on Fridays at 6 pm (usually at our rabbis’ home – please contact us for directions).