2:23 and they cried, and their cry came up to God as an outcome of the bondage.
14:10 and the children of Israel cried out unto Hashem.
In this week’s parsha, the Torah says that klal Yisrael cried out, but does not state that they cried out to Hashem. It just says that Hashem received their plea. Whereas at the time that they were standing at Yam Suf, the pasuk specifically says that they cried out to Hashem. I saw the Yismach Moshe points out this discrepancy, and I would like to try to answer why there was a change in their tefillah.
Sometimes people are stressed-out to the point that they are unable to focus—concentrating on tefillah is beyond their control. In that situation, HaKadosh Baruch Hu therefore looks into their heart, sees their true desire, and accepts the hollow prayer as if it was said with proper concentration and devotion. While Klal Yisrael was in Mitzrayim, the times were simply too stressful for them to focus on their tefillah; therefore, the pasuk just states that they “cried out” without mentioning Hashem. But by the time they arrived at the Sea, they had mastered the ability to pray with proper concentration at stressful time, and so the pasuk says that “their tefillas were directed to Hashem.”
Klal Yisrael’s prayer in this week’s parsha was only as if (k’ilu) they had prayed properly, despite the tefillah being devoid of concentration. Therefore it says “their cry came up to God”. However, while Hashem will look at what a person wanted to do and not at what he actually did (or did not) do, it seems to me that it is obvious that it is not the same as actually doing it.
For example, Reuven’s best friend Shimon is getting married. In order to attend the simcha, Reuven purchases a plane ticket well in advance which will bring him to the other city with plenty of time to attend the simcha. However, the flight is cancelled due to a snow storm, and it becomes impossible to get another flight that will arrive in time for Reuven to attend the simcha. Reuven calls Shimon who responds “It is the thought that counts” and “It is as if you came.” Yet, we all understand that it is not the same as actually being there.
While Reuven may not have been able to do anything to better prepare, the same cannot be said of prayer. Many times I have met people in very difficult situations which demand of them an extra amount of siyata d’shemaya, and I ask of them “Were you able to daven for this pressing issue?” Unfortunately, many of these people have responded that they were too stressed-out to properly focus on their davening.
Don’t fall into this state of affairs! Pray every day with proper concentration and with all your heart. Besides the fact that this is how prayer should always be, but additionally if a pressing situation should arise, you will be prepared to quickly stop what you are doing, “change tracks” and focus on prayer. This ability might sometimes mean the difference between life and—chas v’shalom—death. Then it will not be that Hashem hears your hollow cry as if you were praying, but instead you will be able to pray with the full concentration that Hashem desires.