Talmud Tips

For the week ending 31 July 2021 / 22 Av 5781

Ekev: Succah 13 - 19

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Pitchforks and Prayers

Rabbi Elazar taught: “Why are the prayers of the righteous compared to a pitchfork? To teach us that just as a pitchfork turns over the grain on the threshing floor from place to place, so too do the prayers of the righteous turn the governing attribute of Hashem from Divine justice to Divine mercy.”

Rabbi Elazar derives this idea from the verse in which we see Yitzchak Avinu pray to Hashem for a child: “And Yitzchak prayed to the Hashem… because she (Rivka) was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer, and Rivka his wife conceived.” The word for “prayer” in this verse has the same root as the Hebrew word for “pitchfork,” which begs explanation for their comparison — a comparison that Rabbi Elazar provides with his insight into Hashem’s Divine attributes.

Although farmers are certainly familiar with the importance of a pitchfork in processing their produce in an agrarian society, many city folk may unfortunately think of something quite different and negative regarding pitchforks. But the holy Jewish People know that this item serves as an image for a Divine analogy — the power of prayer for Yitzchak in his time, and for us in ours.

Although any prayer should be viewed as a call to Hashem for mercy, perhaps one of the daily prayer blessings in particular expresses the understanding of prayer being a tool for receiving Divine mercy: Shma Koleinu — “Hear our Prayers.” “Hear our voice, Hashem our G-d, spare us and be merciful to us. And accept — with mercy and favor — our prayer, because are G-d Who hears prayers and supplications. Our King, do not turn us away empty-handed from before Yourself, for You hear the prayer of Your people Yisrael with mercy. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who hears prayer.”

  • Succah 14a

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