“Rabbi, would you pray for me?”

People assume that rabbis are pious. They also assume that G‑d listens to the pious more than He listens to ordinary people. I won’t quibble with the first assumption, though it might not be entirely true in my case… But Judaism rejects the second assumption unequivocally. While it is true that prayer comes more easily to pious people, G‑d listens to everyone who reached out to Him in sincerity. Especially to ordinary people.

Two Prayers

There are two kinds of daytime prayers, Shacharit, the morning prayer, and Minchah, the afternoon prayer.

In the morning, a Jew wakes up and spends an hour or so enwrapped in prayer. This is a holy prayer because we have yet to immerse ourselves in worldly affairs and can focus on G‑d. We are all pious in the morning before the distractions and challenges of the world have encroached. Our minds are on G‑d, on holiness, and on goodness; our intentions for the day are noble.

Then comes the Minchah prayer in the afternoon. Minchah occurs after our minds have been polluted by the worries, challenges, and pressures of the day. We have been tempted during these past hours to cut corners, tell fibs, and succumb to anger and give in to temptation. By this time, it is no longer accurate to say that the average person is in a pious frame of mind. By now, we are rather ordinary.

Yet, when the time for Minchah arrives, we forcibly set aside our worldly concerns and focus on G‑d. The Minchah prayer is short, perhaps fifteen minutes long, but it is powerful precisely because we are not in a holy frame of mind, and still we force ourselves to pray. We have calls to return, texts to send, emails to write, sales to close, irritations to resolve; and yet amidst the tumult, we pull away and pray. This is precious to G‑d.

By disrupting our daily agenda to spend time with G‑d we demonstrate that despite the energy we expend on our affairs, they are not our true masters. Only G‑d is our master.

The Ordinary Prayer

Shacharit is the prayer of the pious. Minchah is the prayer of the ordinary. And though the prayer of the pious is holier, G‑d appreciates most the prayers of ordinary people. Prayer is not the exclusive domain of the pious and righteous, who spend their day cloistered in synagogues and study halls immersed in prayer and Torah study. Prayer is the domain of every ordinary person.

Every Jew can pray. And G‑d listens to every Jewish prayer. When we pull away from our ordinary affairs to focus on G‑d for even a moment. G‑d pulls away from His affairs and pauses to listen.

G‑d of Legions

The difference between Shacharit and Minchah helps us understand a curious aspect about the Exodus from Egypt. The Torah describes our ancestors during the Exodus as the legions of G‑d, “In the midst of this day, the legions of G‑d left Egypt.”1 This is the first time that Jews are described as G‑d’s legions. The fascinating thing is that after using this term, the Torah never returns to it. Only in later generations do the prophets began to use this name. They rereferred to G‑d as “the G‑d of Legions,” or as it is commonly translated, “L‑rd of Hosts.”

This leads to two questions:

What happened at the time of the Exodus to render our ancestors G‑d’s legions and why were they not G‑d’s legions until that time?

If our ancestors were G‑d’s legions at the time of the Exodus, why didn’t Moses describe G‑d as the G‑d of legions, and why did the later prophets adopt the name?

The Legion and G‑d

A legion is comprised of ordinary soldiers who are not known for piety and scholarship. They don’t understand the country’s principles, interests, or values. They don’t know the king or understand his goals for the country. They are ordinary and often crass people, whose behavior the king would likely disprove of. But they are soldiers. They are prepared to fight for their king and die for their country even though they don’t understand the reasons for their orders and the dynamics of war.

The legion represents the ordinary Jew who is not immersed in prayer and Torah study. Such Jews don’t know the Torah or appreciate G‑d on a personal level. At times they even feel separated from G‑d and attached to their own agendas, egos, and interests. Yet, when the time for Minchah arrives, they pull away from their interests and do G‑d’s bidding because they are soldiers and soldiers obey orders.

When the legion is at war, they are more connected to the king than the king’s most prestigious ministers and advisers. They are devoted life and limb; their connection is essence to essence.

We now understand why it is only after coming out of Egypt that the Jews merited the label, “G‑d’s legions.” Before Egypt, the family of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were holy, studious, and devout people, who lived with G‑d every moment of every day. Such people can’t be called legions. They are not ordinary people who live their own lives, separate from the king. They are the king’s inner circle whose entire lives revolve around the king.

Only in Egypt, when Jews had come to be so separated from G‑d in their mindset, could one call them legions. Yet, when they came out of Egypt, they were so attached to G‑d, that in that moment they were more connected to G‑d than the Patriarchs. At that point, they were G‑d’s legion.2

But then Moses brought down the Tablets and gave them the Torah. Moses taught them and nurtured their spirits till they slowly became devout and scholarly Jews. once again, their lives revolved around G‑d; they thought of nothing else all day long and identified themselves simply as G‑d’s servants. Therefore, Moses never used the name G‑d of legions. At that point, G‑d was the G‑d of servants.

In later generations when Jews returned to their ordinary ways, they became legions again. The later prophets urged them to return to G‑d and act as His legions. Hence, they revived the term “G‑d of Legions.” Today, most of us can be described as legions. When we divorce ourselves from our affairs and connect with G‑d for even a moment, we are G‑d’s legions.3