Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Perfunctory Prayer - Moshe Lies Low
Toward the end of parshas Behalosecha a very unfortunate incident
occurs. Miriam, Moshe's older sister, grows impatient with what she
perceives as Moshe's disregard for his wife's feelings, and is vocally
critical of him. Moshe Rabbeinu had separated from his wife,
Tziporah, in order to avail himself completely to Hashem and to
Israel. In Miriam's eyes, her brother had done so of his own accord.
She sensed in his actions a "holier than thou" attitude, and said as
much to Aaron, her other brother. In fact, Moshe had no ulterior
motives. He had separated from Tziporah at Hashem's behest.
Hashem was swift with His harsh criticism of Miriam (12:6-8):
Hashem said: "Hear now My words. If there shall be
prophets among you, in a vision shall I, Hashem, make
Myself known; in a dream shall I speak. Not so with My
servant Moshe; in My entire house, he [alone] is trusted.
In a clear vision do I speak to him... he gazes at the
image of Hashem. So why did you not fear to speak
against My servant, Moshe?"
Miriam was instantly afflicted with tzaraas - a physical malady which,
according to our Sages, afflicts those who slander their friends and
relatives. Aaron is devastated. He beseeches Moshe to do something
Aaron said to Moshe, "I beg you, my master, do not cast
a sin upon us, for we have been foolish and we have
sinned. Let her not be like a corpse, like one who leaves
his mother's womb with half his flesh consumed!"
Moshe acquiesces (12:13): Moshe cried out to Hashem, saying,
"Please, Hashem, heal her now!"
Rashi poses the obvious question: Why did Moshe pray so succinctly?
Is there no more he could come up with for his sister's sake than an
abrupt, five-word prayer? Rashi's answer is simply baffling: Moshe did
not pray at length, says Rashi, so that people wouldn't say, "His
sister is in pain - and he's standing and prolonging his prayers!"
What type of objection could people possibly have had if Moshe
would have spent another few minutes praying for her wellbeing?
Would a lengthy prayer not demonstrate his love and concern for his
The young man didn't know what else to do. He was suffering from
a degenerative disease that grew worse with each passing week, and
not a single one of the doctors he had gone to could successfully
diagnose his illness - let alone find a cure. All was not entirely
hopeless, however. In happier and healthier days he had been a
talmid (student) of the holy Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan
of Radin zt"l. As a last resort, he decided he would make the trip to
Radin and ask his Rebbe for a blessing.
The young man arrived in Radin totally exhausted from his journey,
but his longing to once again gaze upon the holy face of the Chofetz
Chaim was stronger than his tiredness. So, as soon as he got off the
train, he made his way to his Rebbi's home.
The Chofetz Chaim remembered the talmid well. His heart ached to
see him in such a state, and he wholeheartedly agreed to help - but
on one condition. "You must never divulge to anyone," said the
Chofetz Chaim, "what is about to happen."
The young man, of course, agreed to the terms. The Chofetz Chaim
instructed the talmid to travel to the town of a certain little-known
rabbi. "Tell him exactly what you told me," said the Chofetz Chaim.
"Ask him for a beracha, which he will surely give you, and with
Hashem's help you will be healed."
The young man did not have to be told twice. He found lodgings in
Radin for the night, and the next morning he rose early and boarded
the first train to the town of the mysterious rabbi. By the afternoon,
he sat with this rabbi, who listened with great sympathy to his plight.
He gave him a heartfelt beracha for a refuah shleima (full recovery),
just as the Chofetz Chaim had predicted.
After so much travel, the man needed a good rest. He found simple
lodgings in town and slept well that night, but the next morning he
found it difficult to get up. He therefore remained at the small inn for
another day, and another. The rest began to have a positive affect on
him, and after a week he began to feel a little stronger. Slowly, day
by day, he could feel his previous strength coming back. After thirty
days had passed, his illness had almost completely disappeared. Ten
days later, he was in such good health and spirits that it was almost
impossible to believe that less than two months before he had been
knocking on death's door.
Years passed; he bore a family of his own. Yet despite the colds and
flues that came up, he never once said a word about his miraculous
Twenty years after his illness, his sister-in-law became ill with a
strange disease that baffled the doctors. After hearing the details of
her symptoms, he realized she was suffering from the exact same
illness that had afflicted him so many years ago. But what could he
do? He remembered the instructions of the Chofetz Chaim, and he
His sister-in-law grew steadily weaker. The man's wife became
distraught. In the back of her mind, she remembered that her
husband had once mentioned a miraculous recovery that he had
experienced for an illness in his youth. She begged her husband to
tell her more - perhaps what had helped him might also cure her
sister. But he refused to say a word. His wife, however, continued to
plead with him, and in time his defences crumbled.
After careful consideration, he came to the conclusion that he would
tell all. After all, with his sister-in-law hovering between life and death,
it was within his rights to reveal the secret. He sat his wife down and
told her about the trip he had made so many years ago to the home
of the Chofetz Chaim, and subsequently to the city of the mysterious
rabbi. He described to her how he began to recuperate from his
illness almost immediately after receiving this rabbi's bracha. His wife
found hope in his story; she begged her husband to once again make
the journey to the same rabbi.
As they spoke, however, he felt the beginnings of a headache. As the
night wore on, the pain intensified. By the end of the week, he
realized he was once again in the grips of the same illness that had
plagued him twenty years ago. "I must go to Radin while I am still
able to travel," he told his wife, "and seek out the advice of the
Chofetz Chaim. He will tell me what to do for myself, as well as for
The Chofetz Chaim was already elderly and frail, but he recognized
his talmid instantly. His initial pleasure at seeing his former student
quickly vanished, though, as he realized what had happened.
"I'm sorry but I can't help you this time," the Chofetz Chaim told him.
"You see - back then I was still young and strong, and I was able to
fast for 40 days on your behalf. But now I'm too frail and old to take
that kind of fasting upon myself." It had all been a ruse - to hide the
true source of the man's salvation.
Perhaps this is what Rashi meant. Moshe did not pray at length so
that people wouldn't say, "His sister is in pain, and he's standing
and prolonging his prayers!" Moshe didn't want the credit. Were he
to have stood and prayed his heart out at length, he would surely
have been "the talk of the town" (Miriam's affliction went away after
a paltry seven days). And for Moshe, whom the Torah describes as
"extremely humble from all man upon the face of the earth" (12:3),
nothing could be more abhorrent. He took care of business quickly,
and compacted his feelings into a short but heartfelt prayer that
broke open the heavens and aroused the Almighty's response.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication is sponsored by R' Shlomo
Eliezer Isaac, "in memory of my sisters, Tzipporah and
Hadas, daughters of my father R' Moshe Yehudah a"h and
my mother Piniah a"h, who were killed al kiddush Hashem
14 Sivan 5704. And in memory of my father's mother,
Hadas bas R' Shraga, who passed away 11 Sivan 5697.
And in memory of my mother's father, Eliezer ben R'
Chaim who passed away 22 Sivan 5697. And in memory
of my mother's mother, Esther bas R' Yitzchak who died al
kiddush Hashem 22 Iyar 5704.
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.