There is a perplexing gemara in Rosh HaShanah 18a. Rabbi Meir offers two cases of two people who are in identical desperate situations. One case presents two people critically ill, and the other case presents two people being judged for a crime that was a capital offense. Rabbi Meir relates that all four offered tefilah to Hashem, but in each case one was saved and one died. One had his tefilos answered while the other did not. Rabbi Meir asks, why was one answered while the other was not? He answers that one offered a tefilah sh’leimah while the other did not. What is a tefilah sh’leimah? Rashi offers one word: “niskavein.” In each case, one had kavanah and one did not.
This gemara could be the basis for a powerful drashah on the importance of having kavanah. However, Rav Eliyahu Lapian zt”l says that this cannot be the understanding of this gemara. Is it really feasible to say that someone with his life on the line will be daydreaming about what he is eating for dinner tonight while begging Hashem to save his life? This seems truly inconceivable. If so, what then is Rabbi Meir teaching us? Rav Lapian zt”l explains: Certainly, in each case, both individuals with their lives on the line were thinking only about their request during their tefilah. However, one of them deeply believed that Hashem could (and would) save him under any circumstance, regardless of how desperate the situation, and regardless of whether he deserved to be saved or not. He believed in the power of tefilah. The other, while going through the motions, did not really believe that he could be saved. He either believed that it was too late or perhaps that he did not deserve to be saved. He did not believe that Hashem would save him.
“If Hashem was able to create all this in four days,
don’t you think that he can create a cure for you in four days?”
Rav Nissim Karelitz shlita relates a story told by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein. Rav Zilberstein recounts a story from the days when he learned in Slabodka. A man came to see the Chazon Ish. From his facial expression, it was apparent that this man was in tremendous distress. The man described how he had not been feeling well and, after a battery of tests, the doctors told him that he had four days to live. The man burst out crying. The Chazon Ish lovingly calmed him down and then opened a Chumash to Parshas B’reishis. The Chazon Ish began learning with the man: On the first day of creation, Hashem created the heavens and the earth. On the second day, such and such was created. On the third…and on the fourth. He then turned to the man and said: If Hashem was able to create all this in four days, don’t you think that he can create a cure for you in four days? The Chazon Ish encouraged the man not to give up hope but rather to pour out his heart to Hashem in tefilah. He told the man that the gates of tefilah are certainly not closed for a person begging Hashem to be saved in his time of tzarah. The man’s spirits were lifted and he did use those days to beg Hashem for help. During those very days, a new medication came from America and he was one of the first people in the world to test it. It was determined that this medication was an exact match for his illness, and in a short period of time the man was completely healed.
We know that the story does not always end this way, but it certainly can. We also know that no sincere, heartfelt tefilah goes to waste. It will help someone somewhere at some time. We need to be firm in our belief that Hashem loves us more than anyone, wants to save us, and that He is all-powerful and can absolutely save us even in the most desperate situations in life. May we merit to transform our tefilos through internalizing these principles deep in our hearts.
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