Pharaoh asked Moshe to pray to G-d to remove the frogs. Moshe Rabbeinu prayed and the frogs went away. The same thing happened with the plague of wild animals. Pharaoh suffered and begged Moshe and Aharon. They davened to Hashem and the wild animals left. Likewise, with the hail and the locust. Pharaoh begs Moshe to daven for him, Moshe davens, the hail stops, and the locust leave. Why was it necessary that every single time, Pharaoh would ask him to pray, Moshe would daven, and only then the plague would cease? The answer, says Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l (Mir Mashgiach) is that this narration teaches us something very fundamental about life: The way to obtain things in this world is to pray for them. This is the only way to achieve things in this world. Without prayer, not even Moshe could have prevailed.
A powerful story told about the holy Rebbe, Rav Yisrael Baal Shem Tov zt”l illustrates this idea. The avodas Hashem of the Baal Shem Tov is legendary, and any mitzvah he did was on the highest possible spiritual level. On one occasion, he asked for special wine that was made only in the far-away province of Bessarabia. This wine had special deep and latent potency, and he felt it was necessary for a specific and unique tikun. The Baal Shem Tov sent his student, Rav David of Michaleyov zt”l, on the journey, and instructed him to oversee the production of the wine himself so that it would be kosher according to the highest standards. He was not to allow anyone else to handle this special wine.
Rav David traveled to the city of Tilnesht in Bessarabia, and stayed there during the months of Elul and Tishrei. He supervised every stage of the wine-making process with great care and vigilance. He purchased the highest quality grapes, watched as they were pressed, and guarded the vats as the wine fermented. He remained in Tilnesht throughout the holy days of Tishrei, forgoing spending them with his Rebbe and mentor, and safeguarded the fermenting wine with his life. The wine could not have been more kosher. After Sukkos, when the wine was in barrels, he finally decided that it was the precise time to leave for home. He began the journey but heavy rains turned the roads into rivers of mud, and every mile required immense effort. To make it even more difficult, there were always gentiles around, and he didn’t want to take his eyes off the wine, even for a moment. Day and night, in pouring rain and howling winds, Rav David trudged beside the wagon, guarding its precious cargo. Finally, in a state of weary exhilaration, he arrived in Mezhibuz and parked the wagon in front of the Baal Shem Tov’s house. With great excitement, he ran in to tell the Rebbe that he had succeeded in bringing the wine.
Just at that exact moment, a Russian Cossack rode by on horseback. He was an officer of the local land baron, and had been ordered to put an end to the illegal importation of vodka. He was a pompous, bombastic, and pretentious man, with a huge self-inflated ego. When he saw the large barrels on the back of the wagon, he began to shout indignantly. Invoking the full measure of his legal authority, he insisted on opening all the barrels and tasting their contents. Although it would have been reasonable to stop after finding that the first barrel was wine and not vodka, the Russian was not in a reasonable mood. Whether it was the obvious dismay of the Jews or the exotic taste of the wine, the Russian was enjoying himself. Whatever the reason, the man conducted his investigation with dogged thoroughness and refused to leave until he had tasted from every single barrel. By that time, of course, the wine was entirely forbidden to Jews according to halachah. One can imagine the tremendous frustration that Rav David felt as he saw months of work being ruined at the last minute.
With tears of dismay and confusion, Rav David approached his Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, and pleaded for an explanation. “Rebbe, what did I do to deserve this punishment? I did everything in my power to guarantee the kashrus of the wine. I had no ulterior motivation, and I did it all at my master’s bidding. Why should such a thing happen?”
The Baal Shem Tov saw the pain in his student’s heart. “No,” he said softly, “there is one thing you did not do. You forgot to daven. You did not ask the Eibishter to help you guard the wine. And because you forgot the true Source of all protection, you were punished. As the pasuk says, ‘If Hashem does not protect a city, the watchman’s guarding is in vain’” (T’hilim 127:1).