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Fast Days: Joel 2: An Animal’s Cry

8 Lament like a young woman girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. 9 The meal-offering and the drink-offering is cut off from the house of God; the priests mourn, even God’s ministers.


10 The field is wasted, the land mourns; for the corn is wasted, the new wine is dried up, the oil languishes.

11 Be ashamed, O you husbandmen,

Wail, O you vinedressers,

For the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished. 12 The vine is withered, and the fig-tree languishes; the pomegranate-tree, the palm-tree also, and the apple-tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered; for joy is withered away from the sons of men. {S}

13 Gird yourselves, and lament, you priests,

Wail, you ministers of the altar;

Come, lie all night in sackcloth, you ministers of my Lord; for the meal-offering and the drink-offering is withholden from the house of your Lord.

14 Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land unto the house of God, your Lord, and cry unto God.

15 Alas for the day! For the day of God is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.

16 Is not the food cut off before our eyes,

Yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?

17 The grains shrivel under their hoes; the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.

18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.

19 Unto You, O God, do I cry;

For the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame has set ablaze all the trees of the field.

20 Yea, the beasts of the field pant unto You; for the water brooks are dried up, and the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”

You do not have to speak to be engaged in tefillah. Tefillah of speech is the highest form of prayer, the highest, the best, the most effective. You do not necessarily have to be engaged in speech to be engaged in tefillah.

The Rambam (Hil. Ta’aniot) in the laws of fast days, (fast days does not refer to the days that we generally fast, rather it refers to days when there was a drought and a fast was declared) says as follows miztvat aseh lizok ulehariah (it is a mitzvat aseh to cry out, which is a form of tefillah) and blow a trumpet any time you are in trouble.

The prayer of a fast day is a scream! Crying out when I do not know what to ask for, I do not what is the right thing here, I am at a total loss for words, it is a spiritual chapter eleven, in other words, “I do not know – help me!”

It is not just that you are asking G-d to help you out, it is total submission to G-d because you are saying to G-d I do not even know what to ask for. So not only am I crying out to you, to give me what I need, I’m asking You to tell me what I need and then to give it to me. You are literally putting yourself at the mercy of  G-d.

That is why Chazal, our sages, when they describe Avraham’s reaction when he heard that he had to sacrifice his son, it says that he put his hands on his head and he cried out “I do not know what to do!!” What is this image of someone putting their hands on their head and crying out? What is that? It is despair, listen to a Gemara in Menachos about Yirmiyahu, when Yirmiyahu, Jeremiah, heard that G-d was going to destroy the temple and exile the Jews from Israel and Jerusalem – miyad hiniach yadav al rosho (he placed his hands on his head) vehaya tzoek (and he began to scream), this is not prayer, it is total helplessness.

We let out a scream to God that comes from the essence of the human being, a primal scream . So that even if God does not want to listen, so to speak, even if God doesn’t want to be affected, doesn’t want to hear you arguments, doesn’t want to hear your pleas, but there’s a scream – a scream can move even someone who doesn’t want to listen. Even someone who doesn’t care.

The prayer of a fast day is a shriek. G-d responds to the howls of animals, kulam elecha yesaberu (they all howl out to you) and G-d responds to them. That is not a premeditated prayer, but an instinctual prayer. Animals cannot pray with words because they do not have an intellect, animals can emit sounds and howls and reactions to pain,  and the sound is considered prayer by God, because God will sometimes hearken to the  sounds of an animal crying out in pain. Sometimes such acts are considered prayer, but it is not the same prayer as regular tefillah, it is an entirely different form of prayer.

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