1. The Extreme Student
The Kav Hayashar relates one of his characteristically mysterious stories, in the name of Rabbi Yehudah Chasid. The Ramban had a student who learned Torah with a tremendous zeal and fervor -- to extremes. He would not sleep, had a book opened when he ate; his eyes were always in the book. He refused to pray, as well; the davening took him away from his learning. The Ramban warned him: "Eat when it's time to eat, sleep when it's time to sleep, pray when it's time to pray -- you will live and not err. If not, the Torah itself will seek your punishment." Especially, the Ramban warned him regarding the prayers.
The student did not pay attention. One day, when he went to the market to make some purchase, he returned to find his daughter had been attacked, in his own house. He mourned for many days. The Ramban said to him: "I told you not to forsake the prayers, where it is stated, 'Save me today, and every day ... from an evil person ... and an evil encounter ...' "
From then on, the student was always aware of "hashgacha pratis b'bitul hatefilah" -- providential supervision regarding missed prayers.
This story is most peculiar! For one thing, the failings of the student were not only in his prayers, but his entire attitude. For example, his refusal to sleep was mentioned, and the Ramban reproved him concerning it. Yet, the story only seemed to focus on the refusal to pray. Even more interesting was the story's conclusion: 'From then on, the student was always aware of "hashgacha pratis b'bitul hatefilah" -- providential supervision regarding missed prayers.' Your 'happily ever after' story would have said, "From then on, the student was always careful to pray three times a day..."
Prayer is intrinsically linked to will, energy, effort, desire, exuberance and love of life. The student did not want to state his will and desires, as if he didn't have any. Yet, he went to buy something -- he obviously had needs. What about his family? When his daughter was attacked -- it became apparent that he had neglected responsibilities. All this can be summarized with "hashgacha pratis b'bitul hatefilah" -- providential supervision regarding missed prayers. The prayer is not three times a day, but constantly -- prayer is the expression of will.
Each of the forefathers remained unconvinced of the many assurances they received from Hashem. The reason was "shema y'gorem hacheit," perhaps sins will intervene. They were afraid that they or their children would err, and thus lose the merit of the promises. Of course, parents should always be concerned about their children, and there can be no absolute way of knowing how they will turn out.
Yet, strangely, we find in the Talmud and Medrashim that Avraham and Yaakov were blamed for not trusting Hashem in these instances. What was the blame? Quite the contrary, what is the meaning of these 'assurances?' How can a person be assured regarding his children? They will certainly have their own choices...
When Avraham greets the angels, they appear as Arabs. According to Rashi, he suspected them of being idolaters. He tells his family to hurry and prepare food. They ask regarding Sarah. Who are these strange men? Asking about his wife, no less? "Sarah will have a child this time next year." What, at age ninety? She laughs, deep within her soul, so that no one would hear. "Why did you laugh? Is there anything that Hashem cannot do?"
This is "hashgacha pratis b'bitul hatefilah" -- providential supervision regarding missed prayers. When you hear a blessing -- possible good news, say, "Amen -- may it only be so!"
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein -- PC Kollel
1 Babbin Ct. Spring Valley, NY 10977
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© Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97