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

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