Post Archive for March 2013

Shabbos Chol HaMoed Pesach – The Maggid on Prayer, Part 3

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 2 (continued)
Generally speaking, prayer comes in two forms: mandatory and elective. By “elective prayer,” we mean occasional prayers that a person recites in response to specific issues that arise in his life. For example, if a person is suffering some misfortune, it is fitting for him to pray to Hashem for relief, for Hashem is the Prime Mover behind everything that takes place within the universe, and He is a merciful God. Similarly, if a person has attained blessing or success in some area of his life, it is fitting for him to offer praise and thanks to Hashem, the Benevolent One who grants good, in a manner appropriate to the specific blessing Hashem granted Him. As our Sages put it (Berachos 40a), each and every day a person should “give” to Hashem in kind, according to the blessings Hashem granted him that day. Our Sages have set down rules governing the various blessings and prayers to be recited on various occasions, such as the rules about when one must mention Divine names and the title “King” (שם ומלכות), and when one need not or should not. In addition, our Sages set down a structure for prayer, teaching that one should begin with praises, follow with requests, and conclude with praises (cf. Berachos 32a). Moreover, the praises should relate to the same areas as the person’s requests.
Yaakov’s prayer on his return to the Land of Israel serves as an example. He first offered Hashem thanks and praise for the kindnesses He had granted him (Bereishis 32:10): “I am unworthy of all the kindnesses and all the truth that You have done for Your servant.” He then presented his request (ibid. 32:1): “Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, the hand of Eisav.” The prayer of Moshe that the Torah records in Devarim 3:24–25 serves as another example. Moshe first offered praise: “My Lord, Hashem, God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what power is there in heaven or on earth that can perform like Your deeds and Your mighty acts?” He then presented his request: “Let me, please, cross over and see the goodly land on the other side of the Jordan – this goodly mountain and the Levanon.” If you examine the prayers of other prophets, you will find the same pattern. We will explain the reason for this pattern in Chapter 3, when we discuss the purpose of prayer.
There is a difference between berachos and other types of prayers or thanks. A berachah must, as the Gemara teaches in Berachos 40b, mention Divine names and the title “King.” In addition, a person may not recite a berachah of his own devising; rather, the only berachos that may be said are those that the Sages, in their unique wisdom, composed. But when it comes to other types of prayers, whether they be praises and expressions of thanks or pleas, any person may compose a new prayer on his own according to the need of the hour. Thus, we find that the sages of the Talmud composed many prayers of their own, each according to his own needs. Later, the Gaonim composed many prayers, liturgical poems, and praises.
By “mandatory prayer,” on the other hand, we mean the prayers that a person must recite every day to maintain his spiritual vitality. On the physical plane, every living being needs a constant supply of food to keep its body alive. Similarly, on the spiritual plane, a Jew needs a regular regimen of prayer to keep his soul alive. The Kuzari (part III, ch. 9) teaches that the daily order of prayer is to the soul like daily meals are to the body. Just as each meal gives a person the physical nourishment he needs to continue functioning until the next meal, so, too, each prayer service provides a Jew with the spiritual nourishment he needs to continue functioning until the next prayer service. As the time from a person’s last prayer service passes, his soul darkens. If someone misses a prayer service, his soul suffers a certain amount of damage. Thus the Sages say that the omission of one of the twice-daily recitations of the Shema is a “contortion that cannot be straightened” (Berachos 26a, expounding on Koheles 1:15), and elsewhere they say that a person who recites the Shema regularly morning and evening, but misses reciting it one evening, is like a person who never recited the Shema in his life (Berachos 63b).
Chag Kasher V’Sameach!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos HaGadol – The Maggid on Prayer, Part 2

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 1 (end)
Our Sages highlighted the value of prayer. For example, R. Yitzchak teaches (Yevamos 64a): “Why were our forefathers barren? Because Hashem yearns for the prayers of the righteous.” R. Yitzchak does not say that Hashem “wants” these prayers or “desires” them, but rather that He yearns for them – R. Yitzchak uses a term that expresses intense desire. In chapter 2 of Bereishis, the Torah speaks of the time when vegetation had not yet sprouted forth from the earth, because Hashem had not yet brought rain. The Torah then explains why Hashem had not brought rain: “for there was no man to work the soil.” There was no man yet on earth to recognize the benefit of rain, and therefore there was no rain. Only when Adam HaRishon prayed for rain did it fall (see Rashi on the passage in Bereshis). Throughout the generations, whenever a prophet or righteous man was in distress – even when he eminently deserved to be saved – Hashem granted him relief only after he prayed for it. For example, when the Jewish People stood at the Sea of Reeds, Hashem split the sea for them only after they prayed to Him for help. Similarly, when the Jewish People were in the wilderness, it was only after the people prayed for help that Hashem brought them the manna, the miraculous traveling well, and the other blessings that He granted them at that time.
The power of prayer is exceedingly strong. It can reverse a harsh decree and turn it into a merciful decree. The Jewish People have experienced situations where Hashem’s wrath was kindled against them, and He cast upon them a decree of annihilation, but prayer reversed the decree. In the Gemara passage in Yevamos cited above, R. Yitzchak teaches further: “Why are the prayers of the righteous likened to a pitchfork? To teach us that, just a pitchfork turns the stalks of grain over and moves them from one place to another, so, too, the prayers of the righteous leads Hashem to reverse His stance, to set aside the Attribute of Wrath and take up instead the Attribute of Compassion.”
A person should constantly remember the following saying: “Prayer is heard when the soul is submissive, the eye weeps bitterly, shedding tears, and the heart feels remorse.”
Chapter 2 (beginning)
There are two basic types of prayer: praising Hashem for blessings He granted in the past, and pleading to Hashem to grant aid in the future. Each of these types has several forms. There are several terms for praise, including  רון, שיר ,שבח ,הלל, הודיה, זמרהand a few others. Similarly, in Devarim Rabbah 2:1, our Sages teach that there are ten different terms for prayer: שעוה, צעקה, נאקה ,רנה ,פגיעה ,ביצור ,קריאה ,נפול ,פלול, תחנונים. We are not going to define these various terms and analyze the differences between them. We simply note that, just as the human body is a single unit with many different organs – each one with a distinct name, in accordance with its function – so, too, prayer is a general heading embracing in a single term many different forms of expression, each with its own unique character.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayikra: The Maggid on Prayer, Part 1

This week we begin reading sefer Vayikra, which deals primarily with the laws concerning the offerings brought in the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash. At present, we do not have a Beis HaMikdash to bring offerings; in their place we have the daily prayers, which our Sages call “service of the heart.” I therefore decided to present in the coming weeks a series of pieces on prayer, taken from the Maggid’s Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah.
Introduction to Shaar HaTefillah
Our Sages say (Berachos 6b): “What is the meaning of the phrase כְּרֻם זֻלּוּת לִבְנֵי אָדָם (Tehillim 12:9)? This refers to matters that stand at the heights of the world (רומו של עולם), but which people take lightly (מזלזלים בהם).” This statement applies to all the berachos and prayers that we recite each day: Our mouths are filled with song as expansive as the sea, and our tongues with lyrical praise like the sea’s multitudinous waves, but our hearts are totally empty. It is as Yeshayah said (verse 29:13): “For this people approaches, honoring Me with their mouths and lips, but their hearts are distant from Me.” The sages of earlier generations have already written at length exhorting us vigorously about this matter, and therefore we will limit our discussion of the topic to the minimum necessary. We will describe the essence, nature, loftiness, and benefits of prayer, and explain why people generally tend to take prayer lightly.
Chapter 1 (beginning)
Prayer, in its essence, is an expression of the forthright admissions of a person’s heart. A person engaged in true prayer properly is acutely aware of his meager worth, his lowly station, and the enormous extent of his shortcomings. Our Sages taught that a person who is praying must stand in submission and humbleness of spirit, to place his feet together and shut his eyes, to refrain from lifting a hand or foot, and even from blinking an eye – he must bring himself totally under the shadow of the Supreme Provider, Blessed Be He. The supplicant must realize how puny he is, that he has no power of his own accord. He does not even have the power to open his mouth to pray; rather, he must ask Hashem for mercy and plead: “My Lord, open my lips, and mouth will relate Your praise.” He must recognize the good he has already received from the Supreme Benefactor. He must humble himself before his Creator, who has granted him an abundance of good, and who has the power to meet all of his needs. He must know that the Creator wants to grant good to His creations. Accordingly, when a person sets out to pray, he must first relate his Creator’s praise and recount His righteous deeds, and only afterward present his various requests, asking Hashem to sustain him, provide what he lacks, and open for him the treasure store of good that He keeps in His celestial abode.
Prayer is a dependable vehicle through which a person can lead Hashem to turn His attention to him, to show compassion for him, to grant him good, and to meet his needs. It is Hashem’s way, through His Attribute of Compassion, to show compassion to one who asks for it. If a person does not know how to pray, Hashem provides his needs as a free gift. But if a person knows how to pray and refrains from doing so, his conduct is prone to lead Hashem to withhold compassion from him, and instead to treat him harshly. The way Hashem relates to us is analogous to the way people relate to each other. A father of a small boy will show pity for him, check how he is doing, and provide what he needs even though he does not ask. A father will act differently, however, if his son is mature enough to be able to ask for what he needs, but does not do so. In this case the father will not be so caring, and may even treat his son harshly. It is all the more so with people who are unrelated to each other, such as a rich man and his poor neighbor. If the poor man stubbornly refuses to ask the rich man for help, the rich man will close his hand and refrain from giving to him, even though is able to.
Conversely, prayer also has the power to turn a person’s heart toward Hashem. It leads a person to break down his stubborn tendencies, humble himself before Hashem, and to thank Hashem for the blessings He has given him in the past and will be giving him in the future. A person who was pained over some lack will show joyous appreciation when it is filled, and this appreciation, in turn, will lead Hashem to provide the person further blessings. This cycle can continue to ever higher levels of appreciation and blessing.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei

Parashas Vayakhel begins with the following passage (Shemos 35:1–2):
Moshe assembled the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, and he said to them: “These are the things that Hashem has commanded, to do them – ‘On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy unto you, a day of complete rest unto Hashem.’”
In connection with this verse, the Midrash relates that Hashem instructed Moses as follows (Yalkut Shimoni I:408):
Gather for yourself large assemblies, and publicly expound upon the laws of the Sabbath before them, so that future generations will learn from you to convene assemblies on each and every Sabbath, and to bring them into the houses of study to teach and instruct the People of Israel in the words of the Torah – the  forbidden and the permitted – so that My great Name will be praised among My children.
We see that the Sages stress the connection between Shabbos and Torah study. The Maggid elaborates on the matter. He quotes the following Gemara (Shabbos 86b):
All agree that the Torah was given to the Jewish People on Shabbos. For regarding Shabbos it is written (Shemos 20:8): “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” while elsewhere [regarding the Exodus] it is written (Shemos 13:3): “And Moshe said to the people, ‘Remember this day, on which you went out from Egypt ….’” Just as the second statement was made on the very day it was referring to, so it was with the first.
Hashem gave us Shabbos specifically to give us a chance once a week to concentrate on strengthening our bond to Him through Torah study, prayer, and contemplation, thereby making up for the spiritual work we are unable to do during the week because we are occupied with the mundane work we have to do for our livelihood. When Hashem commands us to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” He is telling us to strive on each Shabbos to maintain the same level of sanctity as we experienced on the day this command was first issued – the day the Torah was given, which was also a Shabbos. The same idea underlies the parallel command to “safeguard the Sabbath day to keep it holy, in the manner that Hashem your God commanded you” (Devarim 5:12) – we should keep Shabbos as a holy day in the same manner as when Hashem commanded us about it, the day of the Giving of the Torah. On this pivotal day, we were all assembled before Hashem to hear His holy words. So, too, the Midrash teaches, on each and every Shabbos we should assemble together to hear words of Torah from Torah scholars. In this way, every Shabbos will be like the Shabbos on which Hashem gave us the Torah. We are told: “On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy unto you, a day of complete rest unto Hashem.”
The Maggid brings out the point further with a parable. A man moved to a city far away from his hometown. He constantly hoped that some visitor from his hometown would come, so he could ask him how his family was doing, but for a long time no such visitor came. Finally, one day, a traveling beggar came to his door, and he recognized him as a man from his hometown. He was very glad to see this man, and he wanted to chat with him about how his family was doing. The beggar protested: “Why are you holding me up? I came to this town to collect charity. Why should you cause me a loss?” The man of the house asked: “Tell me, how much did you figure to collect here?” The beggar replied: “An amount equal to two or three gold coins.” The man responded: “I’ll give you these three gold coins if you sit down with me and tell me the news about my family.” The beggar agreed. He sat down and started telling his host about the happenings in his family, but shortly afterward he was overtaken by sleepiness and began to doze. He then said to his host: “Since you have taken me in, I ask you please to give me a bed where I can lie down and sleep.” The host railed: “I relieved you from your collecting today so that you could tell me how my relatives are doing. What business do you have sleeping now?”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem placed within each of us a lofty soul, quarried, as the Zohar puts it (e.g., Raiya Mehemna, parashas Tzav), from beneath His throne of glory. Our souls descended to earth, far away from their place of origin. Hashem yearns, so to speak, all week long to hear from our souls, but we are preoccupied with our mundane activities. So Hashem set aside Shabbos as a day when He could enjoy our company. He provides us with extra provisions during the week – like the extra portion of manna that He gave on Fridays to the Jews of the wilderness generation – so that we would be free on Shabbos from all distractions and be able to enjoy Hashem’s closeness to us and rejoice in His love. And so Hashem had Moshe tell us: “On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy unto you, a day of complete rest unto Hashem.” Hashem wants us to set Shabbos aside exclusively for Him. He granted us rest on Shabbos from our mundane chores not so that we could pass the day in slumber or empty pursuits, but so we could be together with Him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator