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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shmot

And They Cried Out- Crying to Hashem or Crying out of Agony

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It is written in our Parasha:
"A long time after that, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the labor and cried out; and their cry for help from the labor rose up to God." (Shemot 2:23)

What is the intent of the verse "And they cried out (vayizaku)"? Was their intent to cry out to Hashem in tefilla or that they cried out in agony over the bondage? We will delve into the words of the commentators:

1. The Seforno explains that Am Yisrael cried out of agony: "And they cried out." They cried out of heartfelt pain because of their oppressive labors, "Wall, o gate, cry out, o city" (Yeshayahu 14:31). The Or HaChaim also similarly explains that they cried out like one who cries out in pain. However, if so, it is not clear what the meaning is that their cries rose up to G-d, for they were not davening! The Seforno (Shmeot 2:24) continues and explains: And their wails from the work rose up to G-d – not out of their teshuva or tefilla, but like one who is zealous over the cruelty of the taskmasters, as it says, "And I also saw the burden". That is to say, according the Seforno, Hashem, indeed, did not answer their tefillot. Hashem saw the cruelty of the Egyptians, and as a result became involved for the sake of Israel.

2. Another interpretation arises from the following verse: "And G-d heard their cries and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham and Yitzchak and Yaakov" (Shemot 2:24). Hashem redeems them due to the merit of the Covenant of the Patriarchs, irrespective of Am Yisrael’s crying out.

3. One can observe an additional explanation through the words of Yechezkiel (20:6-9): That same day I swore to them to take them out of the land of Egypt…I also said to them: Cast away, every one of you, the detestable things that you are drawn to, and do not defile yourselves with the despicable things of Egypt—I am Hashem your God. But they defied Me and refused to listen to Me…Then I resolved to pour out My fury upon them, to vent all My anger upon them there, in the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it might not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they were… G-d wants to take Israel out of Egypt, however Am Yisrael continues to worship idols. In spite of this, G-d takes them out of Egypt- "For the sake of My name that it might not be profaned in the sight of the nations". Am Yisrael is the nation of G-d, and thus, them remaining in Egypt causes a desecration of G-d’s name! That means, G-d took Israel out because of their great hardship, because of their cries of pain, but not because of their merits, rather, to prevent a desecration of G-d’s name.

4. Nevertheless, the Author of the Haggada of Pesach explains it differently. He brings the verse from the book of Shemot, "And Bnei Yisrael groaned from the labor and they cried out" as an explanation to what is written in the book of Devarim, "And we wailed to Hashem the G-d of our forefathers." In the book of Devarim, it is clear that the reference is to tefilla to G-d, and from here, in his understanding, the crying out in the book of Shemot is also a tefilla to Hashem. In can be inferred that in addition to the connection he makes between the verse here and the verse in Devarim, he learns it from the continuation of the verse in Shemot, where it says, "And their wails rose up to G-d", that seems more like tefilla to G-d (The Ramban also explains it this way in Shemot 2:25).

5. It is possible to present a middle road that synthesizes the different understandings of the verse. It is possible to say that indeed, there is a crying out from pain. However, when the son cries out he does it so his father will hear! The son doesn’t always turn to his father in the language of a request, and the son doesn’t always know how to do it. Therefore, he cries out near his father, for he knows his father will hear his cries, and will help him! Am Yisrael cries out of pain, but it was a cry to Hashem! It can be inferred that that the very feeling of being in the presence of G-d, the very ability to call out to Hashem naturally, faithfully believing that G-d hears you, this in and of itself is meritorious, and that as a result Israel was redeemed, even without a formal tefilla: "And their cries from the labor rose up to G-d, and G-d heard their wails"!

In summary:
It can be inferred that Israel's cry was one of pain and not tefilla, yet nonetheless was answered by Hashem:
1. Since Hashem acts against cruelty in the world (Seforno)
2. Due to the Covenant of our Forefathers- Brit Avot (Simple meaning)
3. In order to prevent a desecration of G-d’s name in the world (Yechezkiel 20)
4. On the other hand, it could be a tefilla (Author of the Haggada, Ramban)
5. It is reasonable that it was a cry out of pain, but it was done so Hashem could hear it, like a father who hears his son, and cry such as this, even if it doesn’t originate as pure tefilla, can be considered tefilla, one that expresses the special connection between Am Yisrael and G-d.
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