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29 Shvat, 5784 - February 8, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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A Conversation with HaRav David Cohen shlita

by Rav A. HaKohen


When the bitter information of the horrendous scope of the destruction of Jewry in Europe became known, a meeting of major rabbonim in Israel was called in Cheshvan, 5705, attended by the esteemed Torah leaders, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, HaRav Isaac Sher and HaRav Yechezkel Sarna. These eminent gedolei hador, as figures representing the conscience of the generation, decided to hold a huge national rally for mourning, teshuva and arousing the people regarding the Holocaust.

Their rousing call bore the words: "Dear Brethren! Let us stir ourselves and harken to the resounding echo from Heaven and cry out with a heartbreaking voice and seek mercy for the remnant of Jewry in Europe. Gather and enter fortified cities, those bastions of holiness, of Torah and piety. Let us go the remnant of the Mikdash and pour out our hearts, and shout in a pained and heartbreaking voice."

On the eighteenth of Kislev. huge masses from all over the country converged on Yeshivas Chevron. A heavy downpour on that day changed some of the plans making it unfeasible to go to the Kosel so that the prayers were said at the yeshiva. The Rav from Krinik, HaRav Chizkiyohu Mishkovsky, recited Selichos and Tehillim, and was responded very emotionally by the assemblage. The stirring messages followed.

The Chevron Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Yechezkel Sarna, went up to the podium/bimah, enveloped in his tallis, and spoke for a very long time. His words were etched in the memories of all present, aided by the rarefied atmosphere of the event.

He said that even such a destruction has its purpose, which he concluded to be teshuva. One of the things which he declared to be imperative was to put the soul back into one's prayers and not to pray out of an automatic routine.

We approached the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Dovid Cohen, asking him to direct the public in arousement.

How, in such times of an ongoing war, with an increasing war cry from the north, is it that we find ourselves somewhat apathetic? What can we do so that our praying not be reflexive rather than reflective?

Time runs its course, begins the Rosh Yeshiva. Four months have passed since Simchas Torah which turned our celebration to mourning when hundreds of our brothers found their deaths in brutal, barbaric ways. Millions of our brothers in Eretz Yisroel are in grave danger, in life-threatening circumstances. All of the idols of self-worship of the 'strength of my hand' have been smashed, leaving us with no one to turn to save our Father in Heaven.

The Ramban writes in Sefer HaMitzvos that the primary obligation of prayer from the Torah is in times of trouble, when it serves to demonstrate that we trust and rely upon Hashem. It is natural that when the time of trouble extends over a long time, our vitality in prayer wanes.

To our great dismay, the situation is only worsening while the danger is increasing. This situation in Eretz Yisroel itself behooves us to reinforce our input in prayer, particularly in these days, and to fight the inertia by focusing our eyes upon Heaven and beseeching Hashem to save us.

Furthermore, we are presently in the throes of the Yishmaelite exile, and as such, our prayers are all the more vital and significant.

Why? The gemara explains(Bava Basra 123a) the verse, 'With my sword and my bow' - that 'sword' implies 'my prayer' while 'my bow' refers to 'my request'.

The Maharsha comments: "The power of prayer is against Esav, but in the exile of Yishmoel, only 'request, pleading' serve to combat him.

A difference between prayer and pleading can be found by the Netziv, in Ha'amek Dovor, where he explains that Chazal established three set times for daily prayer, while 'bakasha' -request and pleading, is additional and according to the circumstances.

Subsequently, in these times, it is the supplementary prayers which can stand us by, beyond the standard prayers, and the more they are, the more effective they can be against the power of Yishmoel.

Why, precisely, is this true?

We find in Pirkei deRabi Eliezer: Hashem made the name of Yishmoel as a counterpart to that of Yisroel, where the name of Hashem, Kel, appears in both at the end, as it is written: Woe to the one who will live in the time when the two are coupled in name, as is written, 'Who shall live [mishumo] Ke-el.'

It is further written: Yishmoel is destined to prevail in three eras of chaos: [one being] at the end of times, from which Moshiach ben Dovid, will spring forth. but Chazal had not yet defined for us the power lying behind Yishmoel.

Further, we find in Pirkei deRabi Eliezer the famous saying being frequently quoted as saying that in the future, Hashem will hear the plaintive cry of Yisroel over what the Yishmaelites are wreaking in the land at the end of days, as denoted in the name of Yishmoel — Yishma Kel - [Hashem will hear] the cry of Yisroel.

We learn that because Hashem's Name also appears by Yishmoel, we need a special power in our outcry so that it be heard by Him. This, in essence, is the difference between the power of prayer against Eisov, which is 'the sound of the voice of Yaakov', the regular sound of daily prayer, while against Yishmoel, we require the additional heartfelt pleading to counteract the strength of Yishmoel who has Hashem's Name incorporated in his own.

I merited to be at the opening of the last Yarchei Kallah in which Maran HaRav Shach zt"l spoke. What he said upset me so much that it took some time for me to get over them. He spoke at length about the situation in the Holy Land and he said that according to natural laws we have no hope of surviving here, surrounded by millions of wild and bloodthirsty enemies.

He said that in some respects our situation is more difficult than the situation in Europe before the Holocaust since there are large expanses of forests to which people can flee while here there is only the sea.

He said that we must embrace the foundations of Torah and avodoh because that is what empowers our existence here.


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