Doing what is Customary

When the Jews reached the Red Sea and saw the Mitzriyim catching up, “וַיִּֽירְאוּ֙ מְאֹ֔ד וַיִּצְעֲק֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶל־ה’ — they became very fearful, and the Benei Yisrael cried out to Hashem.” (Shemos 14:10) Rashi, on the word “וַיִּצְעֲק֥וּ — they cried out”, quotes the Mekhilta, “תָּפְשׂוּ אֻמָּנוּת אֲבוֹתָם — they picked up their ancestors’ profession” and then quotes a pasuq for each of the avos showing how they davened to Hashem in a time of trouble.

The Gur Aryeh on this Rashi bears a close reading:

תפסו אומנות אבותם. דאין לומר שהיו צועקים כדרך הצדיקים שהם צועקים בעת צרה, דהא היו מתלוננים עכשיו לומר “הלא טוב לנו עבוד את מצרים” (ר’ פסוק יב), אלא שהוא אומנות אבותם, שכך היה מנהג אבותם, ודבר שהוא מנהג אבותם נמשך האדם תמיד אחריו, אף על גב שאינו עושה בכוונת לבו ודעתו. וכמו כן אמרו (חולין יג:) גוים שבחוצה לארץ אינם עובדי עבודה זרה אלא שמנהג אבותיהם הם בידיהם, הרי שהאדם עושה דבר משום המנהג, אף על גב שאין עושה זה בכל לבו:

They picked up their ancestors’ profession: That is not to say that they cried out the way the tzadiqim cry out in times of trouble, because they are complaining right then to say “wasn’t it better for us to work for Mitzrayim?” (v. 12)

Rather, that is was the “the profession of their ancestors”, that such was their ancestral custom. A person is constantly drawn after his parents’ practices, even though he isn’t acting with kavanah of his heart and mind…. For a person does things because that is what is customary, even though he doesn’t do it wholeheartedly. 

We are now at 10 months of praying for an end to the pandemic. And at 10 months of Hashem forcing us not to just pray out of custom, following our usual routines, in the familiar structure of our shuls echoing the way we remember our parents and grandparents davening in shul when we were children.

This Maharal speaks loudly to me.

It is okay when you are a child to think of prayer as a way to get things from a Divine Kaspomat (ATM). But it’s time to grow up. To wake up.

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