Post Archive for April 2013

Shabbos Parashas Emor – The Maggid on Prayer, Part 7

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 5 (beginning)
A person must prepare his heart properly before praying. One should not pray merely out of habit, getting out of bed in the morning, going to pray because he has to, and letting routine follow its course – putting on tallis and tefillin, opening his mouth and letting it speak automatically, allowing numerous utterances of Divine Names to issue from his mouth with no thought behind them, proclaiming “I set Hashem before me always” (Tehillim 16:8) and saying “Blessed are You, Hashem” – ostensibly addressing Hashem directly – without genuinely setting Hashem before him. Regarding such behavior, Hashem chastises us (Yeshayah 29:3): “For this people has approached Me with their mouths, and with their lips they have paid Me honor, but their hearts are far from Me.” And the Zohar (Pinchas 213a), expounding on Iyov 1:6, teaches that when the Heavenly Tribunal convenes on Rosh Hashanah, the primary order of business is to pass judgment on those who did not show proper respect for Hashem’s Name and were unconcerned about His Name being desecrated.
Accordingly, as the Gemara (Berachos 30b) relates, the saintly men of early times would wait an hour before praying, in order to direct their hearts to Hashem. [Cf. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 93:1 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.] They would think intently about who they were approaching in prayer: The Master of all worlds, the Creator of all souls, the One who sees into our hearts and our innards, who perpetually remembers all events that occur within the world, including all the deeds of all men. And they would reflect on how many times they had violated His word. They would thereby lead their straying hearts to submissiveness before Hashem, and would be filled with embarrassment over their coming to stand before Hashem with their ignoble record of misdeeds. As Yirmiyahu put it (verse 31:18): “I was ashamed and also humiliated, for I bore the disgrace of my youth.”
Let the one who sets out to pray contemplate Hashem’s watchful management of the affairs of every individual, and of the entire world at large, providing every being’s sustaining force moment after moment. David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 150:6), “Let every soul (neshamah) praise Y-h,” and our Sages expound (Bereishis Rabbah 14:11), “For each and every breath (nishimah), praise Y-h.” Similarly, Yeshayah declares (verse 42:5), “Thus said God, Hashem, who creates the heavens and stretches them forth, who establishes the earth and all it produces, who gives a soul to the people upon it, and a spirit to those who walk upon it,” and the Zohar comments (Bereishis 205b): “He did not say ‘created the heavens, established the earth, and gave a soul,’ but rather ‘creates the heavens, establishes the earth, and gives a soul.’ Each and every hour, each and every moment!”
And as a person approaches Hashem to pray, let him recognize that although he violated His word many times, He did not hold back from extending him kindness, and at the very moment he was sinning, He continued granting him life. Let him reflect on the fact that while Hashem was infusing life force into him, he was using this life force to commit acts of rebellion toward Him. It is a marvel, the bitter insult that Hashem sustains! [Cf. Tomer Devorah, chapter 1]. David HaMelech bitterly lamented this state of affairs, saying (Tehillim 10:14, homiletically): “You behold evildoing and vexation, while You give with Your hand.” Let the supplicant consider: How can he dare lift up his eyes to Hashem? How can he dare open his mouth to pray, to ask Hashem to give him yet something more? Let him bear in mind his lowliness and baseness, how man is described as “the loathsome and tainted one … who imbibes iniquity like water” (Iyov 15:16). In view of this, the scholars of old had the practice of preceding their prayers with repentance, first lamenting their sins and then presenting their requests. Thus it is written (Melachim Alef 8:33): “And they return to You and give thanks to Your Name,” and then “they pray and plead to You.” For after a person repents and humbles himself, he gains favor before his Master, as it is written (Tehillim 51:19): “The offerings God desires are a broken spirit.”

Shabbos Parashas Acharei Mos / Kedoshim – The Maggid on Prayer, Part 6

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 3 (end)
In a well-known teaching, R. Eliezer declares (Sanhedrin 6b): “A man who steals a seah of wheat, grinds it into flour, bakes the flour into bread, and separates challah from the bread for the Kohen, what berachah should he recite? Any berachah he might recite would not be a blessing, but an act of blasphemy. In this regard, it is written (Tehillim 10:3, homiletically): ‘The robber who blesses, he has blasphemed Hashem.’” We can gain a deeper understanding of this teaching in light of our discussion above. As we explained, the main purpose of a berachah is to enable a person to partake of this world without being considered a thief. Thus, if a person has already stolen some item, there is no point in his reciting a berachah over what he produces from it. What could the berachah possibly accomplish? Someone who offers such a berachah would be like a person who feels pity for a pauper with a torn coat and decides to mend the tear, but in the process makes a worse tear in the coat, and gives it back to him that way. Surely the pauper would be incensed over this mockery. Similarly, Hashem is incensed when someone recites a berachah over stolen property.
Perhaps our previous analogy about buying on credit and failing to pay can serve to explain the teaching in Nedarim 81a that the reason a Torah scholar’s sons do not become Torah scholars themselves is because they did not recite [properly] the berachah on the Torah before his daily Torah learning. We can say that since the scholar did not properly “pay” for exercising his learning ability, Hashem declined to extend further “credit” and grant his sons similar learning ability.
We can now understand well why our Sages spoke in such extreme terms, calling a person who partakes of this world without a berachah a compatriot of the man who brings ruin – of Yeravam ben Nevat, who sinned and caused Yisrael to sin. One who partakes of this world without a berachah causes a reduction in the flow of bounty into the world, and thus causes a reduction in Torah study as well, for, as Avos 3:21 teaches, “if there is no flour, there is no Torah.” He thus steals from Hashem and from Knesses Yisrael. Indeed, Hashem wants nothing more than to grant good to His creations; His “enjoyment” in granting us blessing exceeds our enjoyment from what we receive. When Hashem is held back, so to speak, from bestowing bounty, His “enjoyment” is diminished, and this is clearly what the Sages meant when they spoke of “stealing from Hashem.” The concept of “stealing from Hashem” cannot be understood in any other way, for He has the power to bring into being whatever He wills.
When a person prays to Hashem, he should pray primarily for the general welfare of the entire community, and he will ultimately receive his due share. In this connection, our Sages teach that if one prays on behalf of someone else, and he himself needs the same thing, Hashem provides for him first (Bava Kamma 92a). The same idea is reflected in the following episode recorded in the Gemara (Berachos 5a):
R. Elazar fell ill and R. Yochanan went in to visit him. He noticed that he was lying in a dark room, and he bared his arm and light radiated from it. He thereupon noticed that R. Elazar was weeping, and he said to him: “Why are you weeping? Is it because you did not study enough Torah? Surely we learned: ‘The one who offers a large amount much and the one who offers a small amount are equal in merit, provided that each of them directs his heart to heaven.’ Is it perhaps lack of sustenance? Not everybody has the privilege to partake from two tables [Torah and worldly blessing]. Is it perhaps because of [the lack of] children? This is a bone from my tenth son!” He replied to him: “I am weeping on account of your beauty which is going to rot in the earth.” He said to him: “On that account you can surely weep.” And they both wept.
The meaning of this episode is as follows. The Torah relates (Bereishis 25:21): “Yitzchak entreated Hashem before his wife, for she was barren.” The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 63:5 elaborates, teaching that Yitzchak prayed on his wife’s behalf, and his wife prayed on his behalf. The Midrash states:
Yitzchak was bowing down in one section of the room and she was bowing down in another section. He said: “Master of the Universe! Let all the children that You are giving me come from this saintly woman.” And, similarly, she said: “Let all the children that You will eventually give me come from this saintly man.”
Similarly, when R. Yochanan visited R. Elazar, R. Elazar made up his mind to pray on R. Yochanan’s behalf, in the hope that doing so would lead Hashem to heal him from his own illness. R. Yochanan perceived what R. Elazar was thinking, and he said to him: “On that account you can surely weep.” He was telling him: “I know that your weeping is prompted by your own plight, not by mine.” R. Yochanan then began praying on R. Elazar’s behalf, and the two of them wept together.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Tazria-Metzora – The Dubno Maggid on Prayer, Part 5

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 3 (continued)
Indeed, there nothing that more readily speeds a grant of Divine benevolence than recognition of and thanks for a blessing Hashem has previously extended. Our Sages therefore strongly condemn people who are inattentive and lax about reciting berachos and prayers. Thus, the Gemara in Berachos 35a states: “The Rabbis taught, ‘It is forbidden for a person to partake of this world without a berachah, and doing so is tantamount to embezzling sanctified goods.’ R. Levi cast two verses against each other. In one verse it is written (Tehillim 24:1): ‘The world is Hashem’s and all it contains.’ In another verse it is written (Tehillim 115:16): ‘And the earth He gave to man.’ It is not a difficulty. The first verse describes the state of affairs before the recitation of a berachah, while the second verse describes the state of affairs after the recitation of a berachah.’” Shortly thereafter, the Gemara says further (Berachos 35b): “Said R. Chanina bar Pappa, ‘When a person partakes of this world without reciting a berachah, it is as if he is stealing from Hashem and Knesses Yisrael (and he is a compatriot of Yeravam ben Nevat, who sinned and caused Yisrael to sin), as it is written (Mishlei 28:24): “One who steals from his father and mother and says there is no offense, he is a compatriot of the man who brings ruin.”’”
Our Sages use such extreme terms for a deep reason. Kabbalah teaches that when a man here on the earth below recites a berachah, the berachah ascends to the upper worlds, travels to the place appropriate to it, and generates a flow of blessing to the entire class of goods covered by that berachah. Accordingly, a person who eats without reciting a berachah causes a great loss. Now, do not be astonished that a mortal man can step in after the King of the Universe and utter words that produce effects up above. The kabbalah masters explain that each person’s soul is connected to the upper worlds, so that any stirring a person produces here on earth causes a corresponding stirring in the upper worlds.
In Shir HaShirim 1:3, Shlomo HaMelech describes the Jewish People saying to Hashem: “Your Name is like oil poured forth.” Here, Hashem’s Name is likened to a flask of balsam oil, which, while full of a pleasant fragrance with the potential to provide enjoyment, can actually provide the enjoyment only when it is moved about so that the fragrance can propagate through the air [cf. Bereishis Rabbah 39:2, where a similar idea is used in connection with Avraham Avinu, building on the same verse]. Thus it is with Hashem’s exalted Name: It is the source of blessing – like a stream flowing with blessing – which can carry the blessing forth into our world only when man acts upon it to produce the flow. When someone on the earth below invokes Hashem’s Name, he generates a movement in the upper worlds that causes the stored blessing to flow down to earth. All the blessing that comes into this world is brought here through the acts of man. Hashem has, so to speak, placed all His abundant assets in man’s hands. By praying to Hashem, blessing Hashem, and thanking Hashem appropriately, man can generate all the sustenance he needs.
Accordingly, when a person omits a prayer or berachah that should have been recited, or partakes of this world without reciting the appropriate berachah, he causes a decrease in the flow of blessing into the world. It is in this sense that our Sages say that such a person is like one who steals from Hashem and Knesses Yisrael. We can bring out the point through an analogy. Suppose a poor person buys food on credit. When he pays his debt, this act produces two positive effects. First, he makes the food rightfully his, foreclosing the possibility that it could be considered stolen. Second, he establishes himself as a trustworthy person, so that the lender will be willing to lend to him again. Conversely, if he does not pay, his failure to do so produces two negative effects: The food now becomes stolen property, and the lender will not lend to him again. Moreover, the lender may well refuse to lend to others also, out of fear that they, too, will cheat him. Thus it is with someone who partakes of this world without reciting the proper berachah. He has stolen from Hashem, for “the world is Hashem’s and all it contains,” and he has not “paid” Hashem for what he has taken. In addition, he has stolen from Knessess Yisrael, for his misdeed makes Hashem less forthcoming in provding blessing to others. As Shlomo HaMelech puts it (Koheles 9:18): “A single sinner can cause a great loss of blessing.”
L’ilui nishmas Shaindel bas Moshe Yechiel, Rebbetzin Shaindel Bulman, who passed away this week
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Shemini – The Dubno Maggid on Prayer, Part 4

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 2 (end)
The Anshei Knessess HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) established for us a daily prayer order. In addition, we are obligated to recite no less that 100 berachos each day. Most of these are built into a person’s daily routine, but if someone misses one such berachah, he must make it up in some other way. As we noted earlier, the berachos were composed by our Sages and we are not allowed to compose new ones. Likewise, we are not allowed to alter the existing berachos; the ones that are short must be kept short, and the ones that are long must be kept long. The Sages, with their great depth and breadth of understanding, incorporated into the daily prayers and berachos a vast amount of hidden meaning, deeper and wider than the sea. Who are we, and what capacity do we have, to comprehend and evaluate what they prepared and arranged before us, let alone set our hands upon it and make changes? We must employ the prayers and berachos only as our Sages, in their pure wisdom, specified.
When we complete planting here on earth below the roots that the daily prayer order comprises, they bear fruit in the upper worlds. And when we omit one of the prayers, the remainder is like a body that is missing an organ. Now, not all the organs of the body are equally important. When certain organs are missing or altered, the body can still function, albeit imperfectly. Other organs, on the other hand, such as the brain and the heart, are so central that if they are missing the body cannot function at all. It is similar with the daily prayer order. With certain prayers, such as the Shema and the berachos associated with it, every word is critical, and if even a single word is missing, the prayer fails to produce the intended effect. There are other prayers that the halachah instructs us to omit or shorten under specified pressing circumstances, in which case the overall prayer service remains effectual, but to an incomplete degree. We must therefore be very careful not to omit any part of the prayer order, except when we are required to do so according to halachah.
Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 3 (beginning)
We now delve into the purpose of prayer. Hashem, in His kindness, created us and provides us innumerable blessings. Accordingly, our intellect tells us that it is fitting for us to thank Hashem and praise His honored Name. In this vein, the Hallel prayer concludes with the following blessing:
All Your works shall laud You, O Hashem our God. And Your devout ones, the righteous ones who do Your will, and Your entire people the House of Yisrael shall songfully thank, bless, praise, glorify, exalt, extol, sanctify, and ascribe sovereignty to Your Name, our King. For to You it is proper to give thanks, and to Your Name it is fitting to sing praise, for You are God forever and ever. Blessed are You, Hashem, the King who is lauded with praises.
On the other hand, it is beyond the power of our intellect to grasp why Hashem Himself would be particular about being thanked and praised, and would, as the Gemara in Yevamos 64a teaches, cherish and yearn for the prayers of the righteous. What can a man possibly provide Hashem through the praises he offers? And who can really praise Hashem properly? In regard to Hashem, awed silence is the most fitting praise. Indeed, our Sages forbade modifying the established prayers to make the praises more expansive. Thus, the Gemara in Berachos 33b records an episode where a chazzan expanded the phrase “the great, mighty, and awesome God” to “the God who is great, mighty, awesome, grand, powerful, fearsome, strong, stalwart, sure, honored ….” When he finished, R. Chanina rebuked him, saying: “Have you finished reciting all the praises of your Master?” Nonetheless, when we offer prayers that conform to the guidelines that our Sages set, our prayers are precious in Hashem’s eyes, and He considers pleasing every praise and supplication that we direct toward Him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator