Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tefillah: Birum Olam: Prayer stands at the Pinnacle of the World Volume I Issue I

Tefillah: Birum Olam: Prayer stands at the Pinnacle of the World

Volume I Issue I

This week’s parashah is Vaeschanan, where the Torah records that Moshe prayed before HaShem to allow him entry into Eretz Yisroel. The Medrash (See Daas Zekeinim Devarim 3:23) states that Moshe prayed five hundred and fifteen Tefillos, the gematria of the word Vaeschanan, in order to gain favor in HaShem’s eyes. It is clear that for Moshe, entering into Eretz Yisroel was of paramount importance. Can we even begin to imagine praying so long, and so many times, for just one request? The Gemara (Brachos 6b) states that it is said (Tehillim 12:9) kirum zulus livnei adam, when baseness is exalted among the sons of men. The Gemara interprets the verse to be referring to devarim haomdim birumo shel olam ubnei adam mizalzilin bahem, matters that stand at the pinnacle of the world and people treat them lightly. Rashi explains that the Gemara is referring to Tefillah, prayer. This is truly amazing. Tefillah, prayer, is so fundamental, yet people treat Tefillah lightly. At first it would appear that the Gemara is informing us of the dismal fact that people do not value prayer. Yet, by adopting an optimistic approach, we can begin to truly appreciate the Gemara’s statement that Tefillah is a matter that is at the pinnacle of the world.

In this series we will be exploring the meaning of prayer, and more specifically, of how to pray. The first subject will be why we pray.

Tefillah Thoughts

Why do we pray? The Maharal (Nesivos Olam Nesiv HaAvodah 2) asks, why do we need to pray? If HaShem feels that we are deserving, then we will receive what we need without prayer. Furthermore, asks the Maharal, why do we need to recite our prayers with our mouth, if HaShem knows what is in our hearts? It would appear that just contemplating our prayers would suffice. The Maharal answers that the purpose of prayer is to fill man’s deficiency, and one is only considered a person because of his ability to communicate. One cannot be a recipient without praying and communicating with his mouth. Thus, by praying, one demonstrates that he is dependant on HaShem for all of his needs.

Tefillah Teachings

The Halacha section is based on the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch with the final rendition of the Mishna Berurah.

It is written (Amos 4:12) hikon likras Elokecha Yisroel, prepare to go towards your G-d, O Israel. This means that in preparation for prayer before HaShem, one should don honorable clothing as if he was going to greet an important nobleman. If one prays in solitude, he should still dress respectably. In our times one must wear a hat on his head when praying, similar to one who walks on the street. It is not sufficient to wear only a yarmulke, as one who stands before distinguished people dons a hat. One should not pray without shoes, and this is dependant on the custom of the locale. One should also not wear gloves while praying. The Rema instituted that one should not enter a shul wearing galoshes. If one would stand before a distinguished person wearing galoshes, it is permitted to wear galoshes while praying. In locales where the custom is to wear a belt, one must don a belt before praying. Thus, even one who is already wearing a belt on his pants is required to wear a belt that is distinct for prayer. However, there are those who maintain that if one does not wear a belt during the day, he would not be required to wear a belt while praying. Nonetheless, it is a matter of piety that even one who does not wear a belt all day should wear one while praying. One who prays without a belt still has fulfilled the requirement of praying.

Tefillah Translated and Elucidated

Modeh ani lifanecho melech chai vikayam shehechezarta bi nishmasi bichemla, rabbah emunasecho, I gratefully thank You O living G-d and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion – abundant is Your faithfulness! We begin our morning with a prayer of thanks to HaShem for returning our souls to us with compassion. It is noteworthy that in the blessing of Modim that we recite in Shemone Esrei, we praise HaShem for the miracles that he performed for us every day. Similarly, on Chanukah and Purim when reciting the blessing of Nodeh lecho, we thank You, in Bircas Hamazon, we insert the al hanisim prayer, thanking HaShem for the miracles that he performed for us. It would appear that the theme of hodaah, thankfulness, is to express our gratitude to HaShem for all of the miracles that He performs for us. Although we may at times take it for granted, the fact that we awake in the morning is nothing short of a miracle.

Tefillah Tale

There is a story told about a righteous man who lived in Northern Israel. He would bring his son to shul (synagogue) at communal prayer times. Another congregant would do the same. This second congregant would constantly pester his son to be sure to look in the prayer book and say all of the words, whereas the righteous man would sit with his son beside him intently concentrating on his own prayers. One day the congregant asked the righteous man as follows. “Why aren’t you educating your child to pray properly? You just let him sit there in shul and you ignore him. How will he learn to pray properly?” The righteous man replied, “I am educating my child to pray. I am accomplishing this by praying the right way, and setting that example for my son. As he grows he will emulate this example. You, on the other hand, think you are educating your son correctly by pestering him incessantly. All you are teaching him to do is ignore his own prayers. He will in turn pester his own children in the same way.” [Reprinted with permission from]

Tefillah Test

Why do we refer to prayer as Tefillah? The Torah uses many expressions for prayer, such as chanun, compassion, shir, song and more. In fact, The Medrash (Devarim Rabbah 2:1) states that there are ten expressions for prayer. Why do we refer to all our prayers as Tefillos? If you have a possible answer, please email me at and your answer will be posted in next week’s edition of Birum Olam.

Tefillah: Birum Olam: Prayer stands at the Pinnacle of the World

Volume I Issue I

is sponsored anonymously.

Tefillah: Birum Olam is also sponsored lizeicher nishmas HaRav Avraham Yisroel ben Reb Chaim Zev HaKohen Fishman zeicher tzaddik livracha. Rabbi Fishman was the Dean of Yeshiva Bais Yehudah in Southfield, Michigan, and was a wonderful role model to his students and others for how one should pray. Rabbi Fishman zt” l should be a meilitz yosher for all of the Jewish People and we should merit the arrival of Moshiach

and Techias Hameisim, speedily in our days.

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.

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