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

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