“G-d heard the voice of the youth, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar … ‘Fear not, for G-d has heeded the cry of the youth as he is, there’” (Beresheet 21:17).
When Sarah Imeinu observed the negative influence that Yishmael had on her son Yitzchak, she demanded that Avraham expel Hagar and Yishmael from their home. Although Avraham Avinu did not like the idea of sending off his first-born son, Hashem instructed our Patriarch to act in accordance with the instructions of Sarah. He arose early and sent off Hagar and Yishmael into the desert with limited supplies, to comply with the command of Hashem.
When the water ran out, Hagar sat Yishmael under a tree and distanced herself from her son to weep and pray and to avoid seeing the suffering of her child. Then a Heavenly voice called out to her to inform her that there is no cause for concern because Hashem will save the child — “for Hashem has heeded the cry of the youth as he is, there.”
Rashi explains that the rule of Shamayim is to judge a person “in accordance with his deeds at present, and not according to what he is destined to do” (21:17).
The angels objected, “The one whose offspring will put your children to death by thirst (in the first exile at the hands of Nevuchadnetzar) will merit a miraculous well of water?”
Hashem answered, “Is he wicked or righteous at this point in time? I judge based on the present!”
This principle of Heaven’s rules of judgment is contradicted by treatment towards the wayward son. In Parashat Ki Tetze (Devarim 21:18–21), the Torah tells of a boy who steals from his parents to fulfill his insatiable desire for meat and wine. If found guilty, the Torah commands that he be put to death by stoning. Rashi explains that although his crime is not so bad as to deserve the death penalty, the Torah teaches that “It is better that he dies zakai — without sin, rather than die chayav — for serious transgressions.” What is the way of Heaven? Is judgment based on the present or the future? One must wonder why this boy is treated differently than Yishmael.
Many commentators ask this question and each answers in a different way. Perhaps one can say that Yishmael did something to tip the scales. He prayed sincerely to Hashem for salvation. The passuk clearly connects the call of the boy reaching Heaven and the immediate response of the angel to Hagar. The wayward son, however, remained rebellious to the end and did not show any remorse for his wicked ways.
Many people are very diligent in joining a minyan three times every day to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillah. Despite their busy schedules, women everywhere find some quiet time to open a siddur and engage in tefillah and to read Tehillim as well. Unfortunately, many do not realize the power of this daily activity and their words leave their lips but do not originate in the heart. Hashem has a desire, so to speak, to hear the tefillot of the righteous. When people don’t fulfill that “desire” on their own, Hashem may send a “challenge” to prompt sincere communication with Him.
Many are aware of the idea that if someone has a need and shares that need with another and prays for the other person, the one who does so will be answered first. But too many are unaware of the power of tefillah for oneself.
One time a great Rav, who was known for his kindness, was approached by a distraught woman who could not bear children. The woman pleaded with the Rav to beseech Heaven on her behalf. The Rav, in uncharacteristic fashion, told her he would do so if she would pay him an exorbitant sum. She told the Rav that she was a poor woman and could not afford a fraction of what he was asking. Still, he refused to pray without payment.
The woman became angry and said, “If you won’t approach Hashem for me, I will do it myself!”
After she stormed out of the room, the Rav’s gabbai asked, “You daven for everyone, my Rebbe. How come you rejected this woman?”
“Her case is very difficult, my son,” he explained. “To open the gates of Heaven, only her own tefillot will do!”
Yishmael saved himself through sincere personal communication with Hashem. Every Jew has that power. We all desire geulah — salvation. It’s time we invoke the personal lifesaver of tefillah and perhaps we can “force the Hand of Heaven” speedily in our days. Amen.