To Name the Creator
A comment by Ilana Elzafun* brought this Seforno to my attention.
This week’s parashah (Lekh Likha), Bereishis 16:13, describes Hagar’s prayer to Hashem after she was expelled from Avram’s home and was visited by a mal’akh who promised her she would have a son (Yishma’el):
וַתִּקְרָ֤א שֵׁם־ה֙׳ הַדֹּבֵ֣ר אֵלֶ֔יהָ אַתָּ֖ה קֵ֣ל רֳאִ֑י כִּ֣י אָֽמְרָ֗ה הֲגַ֥ם הֲלֹ֛ם רָאִ֖יתִי אַחֲרֵ֥י רֹאִֽי׃And she called the name of Hashem who spoke to her, “You Are Kel-Ro’i [the G-d Who Sees me]” by which she meant, “Have I not gone on seeing after my being seen!”
Seforno explains the concept of “vatiqra sheim Hashem – and she called the name of Hashem”. He opens:
הנה קריאת שם ה’ היא התפלה אשר בה שבחו של הקב”ה במחשבת המתפלל או בדבריו. כאמרם ז”ל לעולם יסדר אדם שבחו של מקום ואחר כך יתפלל
For calling the name of Hashem is the tefillah through which the Holy One Who is Blessed is praised in the thought of the one praying or his words. As [the Sages] of blessed memory say, “A person should always organize the praise of the Omnipresent, and then daven.” …
To name something is to say what that thing means to you.
Before praying one has to think about how one is relating to Hashem in that moment.
From Hagar’s example, when she was exiled from her home, away from her righteous husband and a community of worshippers, she was taken in how Hashem was still watching her, still saw her in her distress. So. she didn’t simply pray to Hashem, she prayed to “Keil Ro’i — the G-d Who sees me”.
Before davening, we have to take a moment and assess our relationship with Hashem in that moment. Talk to the Creator in the natural terms for that particular encounter.
Prayer in a time of distress cannot be the same as prayer in a time of peace. But more than that, the particular emotions that specific distress causes have to be part of the prayer experience.
* Extra care being given to name my sources, because of Megillah 15a:
וְאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא: כׇּל הָאוֹמֵר דָּבָר בְּשֵׁם אוֹמְרוֹ מֵבִיא גְּאוּלָּה לָעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַוַתֹּ֧אמֶר אֶסְתֵּ֛ר לַמֶּ֖לֶךְ בְּשֵׁ֥ם מׇרְדֳּכָֽי:״
And Rabbi Elazar said that Rabbi Chanina said: Whomever says something in the name of the one who said it [originally], brings ge’ulah to the world, as it says “And Esther told the king, in the name of Mordechai.” (Esther 2:22)
And we really could use some Ge’ulah right now.