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.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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