During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.-Exodus 2:23-25
This Torah portion for this week is Shemot, which means "names," from Exodus 1:1-6:1, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23.
At the end of the second chapter of the book of Exodus, we read that the children of Israel cried out to God in prayer because of their bitter enslavement. Next, we learn that God heard their prayers and He remembered His promise to their forefathers. Finally, the chapter closes by telling us that God was concerned about the Israelites.
Now, here's the problem. God already told Abraham that his descendants would go down to Egypt and be oppressed by the Egyptians. He also promised Abraham that his descendants would eventually be freed and prosper. So the question is: Why did the children of Israel need to cry out to God at all in order to awaken God's compassion and salvation? It was already promised and predicted. In addition, when the verse tells us that God "remembered" His promise to the forefathers, are we supposed to believe that God had somehow forgotten the promise? Does God need us to remind Him of our plight so that He may take notice of us?
I once heard this dilemma explained with the following analogy. Imagine that a school is awarded an enormous grant. The principal is excited about all the new programs that he will be able to implement and all the ways that he can make the school a better place for his students. Months go by and the money that had been promised fails to appear. More months go by, and the principal is concerned. He goes to the director of the foundation, who promised the money in the first place, and asks him where the money is. The director reminds the principal that he has forgotten to do the one thing that will allow the money to reach the school. "You were supposed to open a bank account for us to put the money into!" the director explains. Without the bank account, there was no way to channel the funds.
Friends, God has all sorts of blessings to give us and promises to fulfill. But He cannot do so if we don't "open a bank account." What that means is that we have to open our mouths in prayer. Prayer is the vehicle through which we draw down God's blessings into the world.
It wasn't that God forgot about Israel or His promises to them; they only needed to pray for them. As soon as they opened the channel of prayer, the blessings began to flow. Similarly, we need to open our mouths in prayer for all our needs. God is ready to give them; we need to get ready to receive them.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President