Transcription of a drasha from Rav Moshe Wolfson:
It is a Mitzvah to Pray when a Calamity Befalls the Community
The following is an excerpt from the Rambam:
It is a mitzvah in the Torah (Biblical commandment) to cry out and blow trumpets upon every calamity that befalls the community, as the verse states: “[When] an enemy torments you, blow trumpets.” The meaning of this verse is that if anything torments you, for example: a famine, epidemic, locusts or anything similar, you should pray fervently and blow trumpets.
This is the way of teshuvah (repentance): When a calamity befalls, one prays and blows trumpets. [Then, the belief is reinforced that] it is because of evil deeds that this befell them [Hashem rewards righteous deeds and punishes transgressions]… [Repentance] will cause the misfortune to cease.
However, if they do not wail and blow trumpets [they ignore the danger] and say, ‘a phenomena of the natural world order befell us; this catastrophe is a coincidence,’ [they deny that Hashem is demanding something from us] this is cruelty, because it causes them to continue in their evil deeds. And this tragedy will be accompanied by more disaster, as the Torah states, “And if you will go with Me [saying that what happened is] a coincidence, I will go with you with [a] furious [series of] coincidence[s].”
The Ramban is of the opinion that the biblical obligation to pray is precisely when one is in a dire situation.
According to both the Rambam and the Ramban one must pray in a time of danger.
We are Now in a Time of Danger
A person should keep himself updated with the Jewish news. He should know how Jews worldwide are faring. It is especially important to know what is happening in Eretz Yisroel, as the verse in Tehillim instructs, “Inquire about the peace of Yerushalayim.”
Iran is currently a serious threat. The ruler of Iran repeatedly and explicitly announces that he wants to kill every Jew, as Haman declared. If he will succeed in attaining nuclear warfare, we will all be in serious danger. Those in the know predict that the bomb will be ready by the summer.
It is no secret that the secular Israeli government is considering attacking Iran to prevent them from acquiring the weapons which would render them capable of destroying the tiny country in moments. What is also understood is that such an attack will likely launch the Third World War.
Why are We Apathetic?
With Israel and the world in so much danger, why are we silent? Why aren’t we praying? Why are we so apathetic?
Everyone is busy with their petty activities; we are distracted with texting, gadgets, politics and other silliness and are deaf to the alarm bells! Why aren’t we conscious of what is happening in the world?! Why don’t we rend the heavens with prayer?
True, we are also occupied with chasing a livelihood and daily living – and yes, these are necessities – but we are now in danger and have to focus on prayer and repentance!
Why is no one talking about this? I thought to myself, “Now is not the time for silence!” When there is no man to do the task, one has to do it himself. Therefore, I asked that everyone assemble. Afterwards I was informed that Harav Rosenblum Shlit”a had already spoken about this, and that he said that now is a time when the general population as well as the individual is being judged.
Mashiach Seems Imminent
Rabbi Yitzchak said: The year that Mashiach will appear, the kingdoms of the nations will quarrel with each other.
The King of Persia will fight with the King of Arabia, and theKking of Arabia will go to Edom for advice. (As we see today, Iran is threatening Saudi Arabia.) The King of Persia will destroy the whole world. All the nations will scream and be confused. They will experience pain similar to the pangs of labor. The Jewish people will scream and be confused and they will ask, “Where shall we go? Where should we turn?” Hashem will say to them, “My children, do not be frightened; the time for your redemption has arrived.”
The Maharal states that although the Babylonian and Median Empires disappeared, Edom (the European nations) and Persia will remain until the coming of Mashiach. Persia is Iran, the place where Achashveirosh once gave the royal signet to a villain who intended to kill every Jew. Although Persia is not a nation of Yishmael, it identifies with his culture; as we see, they practice the religion of Yishmael, Islam.
This Pesikta is eerily similar to today’s current events. I cannot state with certainty that it refers to our times – until Mashiach comes we cannot know anything for sure – but perhaps yes? The likelihood of Mashiach arriving soon seems quite probable.
We have to prepare for the final redemption.
There is No Reason to Panic
One thing is clear; there is no need to panic. Hashem will definitely perform miracles: “Stand and await the salvation of Hashem.” Ever since the Holocaust, Hashem’s countenance has smiled on the Jewish people, and he has performed big miracles for them.
Today, Eretz Yisroel is the home of almost half of the Jewish people. Almost all of the Torah learning in the world today occurs in Eretz Yisroel. All the miraculous wars that this tiny country experienced are completely out of sync with nature. The terrorists throw their missiles at Israeli population centers and they keep on missing! These same missiles cause hundreds and thousands of casualties in Iraq and other countries. In Eretz Yisroel, no one is injured! Sometimes here and there, the terrorists succeed in murdering individuals, but that is nothing compared to the scores of victims they slay – using the same techniques – in other countries.
During the Gulf War there was only one direct casualty of the thirty-nine missiles – a man who was cursed by the Chazon Ish. The Americans lost tens of soldiers from one missile! Today, Hamas shoots bombs from the Gaza Strip by the dozens and rarely does anyone get killed! In other countries, hundreds die!
Hashem is not performing these miracles for the ‘Israelis’. He performs them for the Jewish people; for the Jews that study and live by the Torah and for those who, with their children, will ultimately repent and study and live by the Torah.
Hashem will Perform Miracles in the Future
The parents of Shimshon the Judge experienced the awesome revelation of an angel and its fiery ascent to heaven. Shimshon’s father was afraid that he would die after seeing such an awesome revelation. His wife calmed him down saying, “Had Hashem wanted to kill us He would not have accepted our sacrifices and revealed to us these tremendous wonders.”
The miracles Hashem performed for us in recent history make us feel secure. Eretz Yisroel is a country of a few million, encircled by a few hundred million bloodthirsty enemies who continually attempt to destroy it but are miraculously unsuccessful. Hashem is not showing us all these miracles in preparation for doom! He is performing all these miracles as a preparation for a tremendous salvation.
However, we must prepare adequately for miracles. We have to repent and pray and await the salvation of Hashem.
We are Obligated to Repent and Pray
Eliyahu Hanavi was informed by Hashem that it would rain after the three years of famine. Eliyahu Hanavi prayed and it rained. Why did he have to pray if Hashem had promised him that it would rain?
R’ Tzadok Hakohen answers – no matter! Even if we know that a miracle will happen, we have to pray anyhow. Even though we know that Hashem will perform miracles for us at the final redemption that will be greater than those at the redemption from Egypt, we still have to pray and repent.
By the splitting of the sea the verse states, “וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חמָה” ‘the waters were fortresses.’ However, the word חמה is missing its ו’; it should have been spelled חומה. The Midrash infers from here that חמה should be read as חֵמָה – wrath.
Great miracles were awaiting the Jewish people as they stood at the edge of the Sea of Reeds. The powers of evil fought with all their might to prevent the miracles from materializing and brought forth all the sins of the Jewish people. Therefore, there was a wrath in heaven. When the Jewish people prayed and repented, the חֵמָה disappeared, and in its place, the חֹמָה – protecting fortresses – appeared. The raging waters were transformed into a bastion of security.
Rescuing Ourselves from the Birth Pangs of Mashiach
The Gemara asks: “What should a person do to rescue himself from the birth pangs of Mashiach?” The Gemara answers: “He should engage in Torah study and in acts of kindness.” We have to take account of our actions; where are we up to in our service of Hashem?! Are we satisfying His demands of us?! The Jewish people need merits!
Prophet Tzefania implores; “בַּקְּשׁוּ-צֶדֶק בַּקְּשׁוּ עֲנָוָה אוּלַי תִּסָּתְרוּ בְּיוֹם אַף ה’“, ‘Seek out justice, seek out humility; perhaps you will be hidden on the day of the wrath of Hashem.’
We have to establish periods in the day for learning Torah; solid blocks of time, uninterrupted by the distracting beep of an incoming text or call! One should make a habit of removing his cell phone or closing it before sitting down to learn.
The Rebbe of Lubavitch said that when a Jew learns, it is like Shabbos. On an ordinary day, one is obligated to be productive. It is only on Shabbos that are we exempt from working. When a person learns or engages in serving Hashem, for him it is Shabbos. Would we pick up the phone on Shabbos? We do not answer calls when learning.
A Bais HaMedrash (house of prayer and Torah study) is a place which is dedicated to Torah study. In a Bais HaMedrash it is Shabbos all week and no business is to take place. One who answers his cell in the Bais HaMedrash brings the marketplace into Shabbos. He desecrates the Shabbos which dwells there!
We have to put forth effort that our Torah learning should be with fire, not habitual.
We also need prayer, as the Rambam explained. Every Jew has to ask Hashem to spare the Jewish people, his family and himself. We should exercise special focus during the parts in the daily prayers when we pray for salvation from enemies. Examples are: the prayer of ‘אמת ואמונה’, which we say by Maariv (evening prayers), in which we beseech Hashem to rescue us from tormentors and oppressors; and השכבנו where we pray for protection.
During the Egyptian war, the Belzer Rav ztz”l, advised that everyone say chapter 46 from Tehillim, in which we pray to be spared from suffering caused by war. I advise that we print this chapter and paste it into every siddur (prayer book).
We should begin saying this psalm daily, because the danger we face is imminent! “Prayers are more powerful when recited before the danger arrives,” the Gemara informs us. It is not a question of months; it is weeks. Within the next few weeks there will probably be news; and with the help of Hashem, it will be good news for the Jewish people.
In addition, we have to give more tzedakah (charity) and engage in acts of kindness.
Unity Among Jews
The nullification of Haman’s evil decree came about through “כנוס את כל היהודים“, ‘the gathering of all the Jews.’ Today’s leader of Persia speaks like Haman and we need unity as a merit to be spared from his evil schemes.
We give only a half-shekel coin to pay for our part in the sacrifices to symbolize that we are only a part of a whole. Moshe Rabbeinu asked that Hashem not accept Korach’s part in the communal sacrifice because he instigated disunity among the Jewish people. He opposed the entire idea of the half-shekel so his contribution was invalid.
Bitter feelings among Jews are a big victory for the Satan. We have to work in this area – to forgive and forgo, and let go of grudges. This is very hard; but now when Jews need merits, we have to do it!
It is a time of danger for the Jewish people, but we will be rescued. We should enter the month of Adar – the month of unity among Jews and miracles against the Hamans of history – with a happy heart.
May Hashem spread His Sukkah of protection upon us and every Jew and on Yerushalayim, and
והביאנו לשלום מארבע כנפות הארץ ותולכנו מהרה קוממיות לארצנו
May He bring us in peace from the four corners of the land and guide us speedily, walking upright to our land
הלכות תעניות פרק א