The words, “With my sword and with my bow” (Bereishit 48:22) are interpreted by Onkelos as meaning “with my prayer and with my supplication”. Yaakov, according to this understanding, demonstrates two forms of connection with God. One is “prayer” – fixed and regular, at set times in a set place, and with a set formula. The second is “supplication”, which changes from person to person, from moment to moment and from place to place.
The “Meshekh Hokhma” continues Onkelos’s idea and explains that while fixed prayer does not require special concentration – it is accepted whenever it is offered – “supplication” does require specific concentration, without which it is not accepted. This, he maintains, is the principal difference between prayer and supplication.
This difference between “prayer” and “supplication” is perceived by the Meshekh Hokhma in the images that Yaakov chooses to represent each one. The sword is a dangerous weapon: any sharp vessel made of iron will inflict harm even if there is no such actual intention; thus a sword, by virtue of its form, is going to cause damage. A bow, on the other hand, has no intrinsic power to cause harm; it is not dangerous unless a person specifically aims to harm his fellow
Prayer, like the sword, is capable of causing an effect, attaining an objective, even if there is no intention. Supplication, like the bow, has no power without intention, but if it is aimed deliberately then it can hit the mark. Moreover, the more force a person applies – the greater his concentration – the further the arrow, and his supplication, will go
. Similarly, we find in Tehillim 6:10 the dual expression, “Hear O God, my plea; God will accept my prayer”. A “plea” is supplication, and therefore the psalmist asks that God should hear it. Prayer, in contrast, will certainly be accepted by the Holy One. And just as Yaakov made use of both his sword and his bow – both prayer and supplication – so we should continue the age-old tradition of both regular prayer and specific requests for our own needs and for those of all of Israel.