Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Noach
To dedicate this lesson

The Formula: Prayer + Patience


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Monday, 26 Tishrei 5768
After months of a harrowing experience inside the ark, Noach dared to open the ark’s window and try to check whether it was time to prepare to exit the ark. After the raven’s failure, he sent the dove out three times to scout out the situation on the ground (or was it still the water?). There were periods of seven days in between attempts. In describing these periods, the Torah writes: "Vaya chel another seven days" and a similar "Vayiya chel another seven days" (Bereishit 8:10-12) [major part of root is bolded].
What is the meaning of the expression, "vayachel "? Rashi explains that it means to wait. He supports it with the use of the word in regard to Iyov, for whom people waited to hear what he had to say (Iyov 29:21). We can bring similar support from the long wait of Eglon’s servants for their slain leader (Shoftim 3:25) and Shaul’s nerve-racking wait for Shmuel (Shmuel I, 13:8).
However, further investigation raises another possibility. Noach’s difficult situation is reminiscent of that of another person, Yehoachaz ben Yehu, King of Israel, who was hit with a "flood" of troubles. He was preceded by two generations by the evil king, Achav, who despite certain glaring deficiencies, merited a robust economy and was successful in battle. In contrast, during Yehoachaz’s reign, a tremendous downturn occurred. He was defeated soundly by the Aramites, prompting the pasuk, "The King of Aram ... left for Yehoachaz only 50 cavalry men, 10 chariots, and 10,000 foot soldiers" (Melachim II, 13:7). What did Yehoachaz do to extricate himself from this predicament? "Vayechal Yehoachaz the face of Hashem" (ibid.:4). Here the root we have been working with clearly means to pray, and indeed Hashem answered him favorably even though the people were not virtuous enough to have otherwise deserved success (ibid.).
But why does the Torah use a root that could easily be understood by a different meaning? Let us try to answer with the help of yet another use of this root in that time period. After things reached a particular low, the king exclaimed: "Alas, this trouble is from Hashem! Why should I pray (ochil ) to Hashem anymore" (ibid. 6:33). Although the navi does not name the king, it is likely that it is referring to the one who did vayechal elsewhere, Yehoachaz. His claim was that when we see that the prayers are not helping, there is no point to continue. The answer to his claim is the double meaning of vayechal: one has to pray and one has to wait patiently regarding the prospects of an accepted prayer. If we are patient, the salvation will come.
It is likely then that Noach’s vayechal was also a waiting accompanied with prayer, as Yehoachaz was told to do 2,000 years later. Every subsequent generation would do well to also internalize this idea: pray patiently and wait prayerfully.

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