Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tefillah: Birum Olam: Prayer stands at the Pinnacle of the World Volume I Issue 2

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

Volume I Issue 2

In this series we will be exploring the meaning of prayer, and more specifically, of how to pray. In this issue we will examine the effects of prayer.

Tefillah Thoughts

From time to time we all must wonder if our prayers are being accepted. In this segment we will offer the explanation of the Mabit regarding prayer for the Ultimate Redemption, and this will shed light on our prayers for ourselves. The Mabit writes in Shaar HaTefillah (§17) that for the final redemption to occur, the Jewish People are required to offer many prayers, and there are two reasons why it is easier for the later generations to have their prayers answered. One reason is that the earlier generations were further away from the redemption, whereas the current generation is much closer to the redemption. Secondly, since the final redemption is such a great matter, in order for us to merit the final redemption, we are required to offer many prayers. When HaShem decides that the quota of prayers has been fulfilled, then HaShem will surely bring the redemption. At that time all the prayers that have been offered throughout the generations will be deemed to have functioned as a vehicle to effect the final redemption. Furthermore, since all the earlier generations were anticipating the final redemption, they will be rewarded for their efforts with the final redemption. Those who anticipated the redemption are those who will merit witnessing the final redemption. The Mabit concludes that even prior to meriting the final redemption, HaShem answers our prayers in every generation, and He saves us from our troubles. These salvations are also effected through our prayers for the redemption. This, then, is akin to salvation in every generation. Thus, it would seem that according to the Mabit, even if one’s prayer for his own concern does not appear to have been answered, he will be answered because of our prayers for the Ultimate Redemption, may it occur speedily, in our days.

Tefillah Teachings

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

It is praiseworthy to give tzedakah, charity, prior to prayer, as it is said (Tehillim 17:15) ani bitzedek echezeh panecho, and I – in righteousness I shall behold Your face. There are congregations that have the custom to give tzedakah when reciting the words (Divrei Hayamim I 29:12) vihaosher vihakavod milfanecho, wealth and honor come before You. There are some locales where they collect tzedakah during the reading of the Torah and this is improper, as this prevents people from hearing the Torah reading and from answering Barchu. One should also accept upon himself before praying the mitzvah of (Vayikra 19:18) viahavta lireiacha kamocha, you shall love your fellow as yourself. One should have in mind to love every Jew like himself, because if Heaven forbid there is divisiveness amongst the hearts of the Jewish People down below, then above there is also a lack of unity. The unity of the bodies down below is the catalyst for the unity of the souls above. It is through this unity that the Tefillos unite, and when the Tefillos are united, it is favorable before HaShem, blessed is His Name.

Tefillah Translated and Elucidated

Mah tovu oholecho Yaakov mishkinosecho Yisroel, how goodly are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, O Israel. The Maharshal (Teshuvos 64) writes that since this verse was said by the evil Balaam, one should not commence prayer with the recital of this verse. It is interesting to note that Balaam recited this verse when he realized that it was good in HaShem’s eyes to bless the Jewish People. The Mishna in Avos (5:22) tells us that Balaam had an ayin raah, an evil eye. Perhaps for a moment HaShem allowed Balaam to utilize the “good eye” (See Ohr HaChaim Bamidbar 24:1 for a different interpretation of the verse there), and this is what allowed him to bless the Jewish People, as it is said (Mishlei 22:9) tov ayain hu yivorach, one with a good eye will be blessed. The Gemara (Sota 38b) interprets the verse to mean that one with a good eye can bless others. Thus, in support of the custom to recite the verse of mah tovu at the onset of Tefillah, we can suggest that our Sages were teaching that more important than anything, one has to have a tov ayin, a good eye. Even if one feels that his prayers have not been answered, he will be able to see everything that happens to him in a positive light. He will then be able to focus his prayers on behalf of himself and others.

Tefillah Tale

Many chassidim would come to hear the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l daven. The Rebbe’s Tefillos were unlike any Tefillos that anyone had witnessed for many generations. The words that came out of the Rebbe’s mouth were like fiery embers, and he would recite the Tefillos with tears streaming from his eyes. The Rebbe’s Tefillos were so intense that he appeared to be consumed by fire. At times the Rebbe would repeat a verse in Tefillah, even repeating a verse ten times. When reciting the words in az yashir of tiviaimo visitaeimo bihar nachalascho, You will bring them and implant them on the mount of Your heritage, the Rebbe would plead with HaShem to redeem the Jewish People. The Rebbe would sob, “Tatte, Tatte, Tatte, oy, oy, oy… Tatte, have mercy on Your children.. Tiviaimo visitaeimo, Tatte, Tatte, Tatte, it is enough already, enough, have mercy on Your children, Heilege Bashefer, bring them now, now.. implant them on the mountain of Your heritage….” There were times when the Rebbe would recite these words alone for an hour.

Tefillah Test

Last week we posed the question: 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? There were a few answers that were submitted, and for brevity’s sake, I will cite them in abridged format.

  1. Zvi wrote: The root of Tefillah is palail, to judge, to differentiate, to clarify, to decide. In life we constantly sort out evidence from rumor, valid options from wild speculation, fact from fancy. The exercise of such judgment is called plilah. Indeed the word plilim from pll is used in the court of law (Shemos 21:22), and what is the function of a court if not to sift evidence and make a decision? A logical extension of pll is the related root plh, meaning a clear separation between two things. Thus prayer is the soul’s yearning to define what truly matters and to ignore trivialities that often masquerade as essential [Siddur Avodas HaLev]. The Hebrew word for praying is hitpalail. It is a reflexive word meaning that the subject acts upon himself. Prayer is a process of Self-evaluation, Self -judgment; a process of removing oneself from the Tumult of life to a little corner of truth and refastening the bonds that tie on to the Purpose of life. Source taken from The Artscroll Siddur page xiii.
  2. Aurel wrote: Pillel to judge. Judging/Changing himself through Tefillah. Tofel joining himself to Hashem.
  3. The Pinei Menachem, the Gerrer Rebbe (Vaeschanan 5753), cites the Alexander Rebbe and the Sfas Emes who writes that the ten expressions of prayer are the means with which to arrive at Tefillah. Thus all the expressions of prayer are in essence incorporated in Tefillah.

This week’s question: In the Tefillah of Vihu Rachum we recite the words (Daniel 9:17) vihaseir panecho al mikdoshco hashameim limaan Ado-nai, and let Your countenance shine upon Your desolate Sanctuary, for the Lord’s sake. What is another possible interpretation for the word Ado-nai here? 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 2

Is sponsored in loving memory of Ita Tzipporah bas R’ Hirsch ob”m

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.

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