"And now, I give you one portion [sh'chem] more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow" Genesis 48:22
Jacob's life is drawing to its natural close and he wishes to bless his children before he departs this life. But first he begins with his grandsons, Joseph's children, Ephraim and Manasseh, before gifting his favourite son with an extra portion over and above the others. This may well be the city of Shechem which was gained by deception and force of arms (see Genesis 34).
It would appear that later teachers were troubled by the reference to "my sword and my bow". Hence, the Targum Onkelos, the ancient translation of the Torah into Aramaic, translates this phrase as "my prayer and my supplication" (See also, Talmud, Baba Batra 123a).
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk noticed this and asked, "Why is prayer is compared to a bow?". Answering his own question, he said: "Just as with a bow, the more you pull the further the arrow flies, so too with prayer. The more you focus your mind, the more the prayer ascends."
This suggests that prayer is a weapon, a spiritual weapon, but no less potent for that. In the aftermath of religiously-inspired terrorism in Paris, we need to bear in mind that we too have spiritual weapons at our disposal. Prayer is not the monopoly of extremists. It can nurture our resolve and promote the unity with people of all faiths and none which alone can defeat those who would pit us against each other.
The Rebbe of Kotzk was uncompromising. He demands our utmost concentration in prayer. Only devotion on this level produces real, positive effects on ourselves, and through us, on the world.
Rabbi Larry Tabick