Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tefillah: Birum Olam: Prayer stands at the Pinnacle of the World Volume I Issue 3

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

Volume I Issue 3

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

Tefillah Thoughts

What is it that we are supposed to be praying for? It is said (Shemos 20:20) lo saasun iti elohei chesef veilohei zahav lo saasun lachem, you shall not make [images of what is] with Me; gods of silver and gods of gold shall you not make for yourselves. Rabbeinu Bachye (Ibid) interprets this verse homiletically as follows: HaShem is saying to us that when you are iti¸ with Me, i.e. when you are engaged in prayer, elohei chesef veilohei zahav lo saasun lachem, you shall not be thinking of your gold and silver. It would appear from the words of Rabbeinu Bachye that when one prays, he should not be focused on his materialistic needs. Rather, one should focus on the glory of HaShem. This idea requires clarification, as the Gemara (Shabbos 10a) contrasts Torah study and prayer by stating that Torah study is deemed to be chaye olam, pursuit of eternal life, whereas prayer is deemed to be chaye shaah, concerns of the transitory life. Rashi explains that studying Torah brings one to the World to Come, whereas one prays so that eh can obtain his needs in the world, such as health, peace and livelihood. It would seem, then, that the main function of prayer is for ones material needs and not for HaShem’s glory. Next week we will G-d willing reconcile these two apparently contradictory ideas.

Tefillah Teachings

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

It is written (Koheles 4:17) shimor raglecho kaasher teilech el Bais HaElokim, guard your foot when you go to the House of G-d. The Gemara (Brachos 23a) interprets the word raglecho to be referring to the need for one to relieve himself. Thus, one should check himself prior to praying to see if he needs to relieve himself. One who feels even the slightest urge to relieve himself is prohibited from praying. One is forbidden to study Torah when he feels the need to relieve himself, and certainly one is prohibited to recite Shema and blessings until he cleans himself. This applies even if he does not have such a great need to relieve himself and subsequently he will not violate the prohibition of baal tishaktzu (refraining from relieving ones self is deemed to be an abomination). Nonetheless, he is prohibited to engage in Torah study and prayer if he cannot hold himself back the measure of a parsah (4 mil, which is the equivalent of walking for seventy-two minutes). If he can wait the distance it would take to walk a parsah, then he would be permitted to recite Shema but he would still be prohibited from reciting Shemone Esrei. The Shaarei Teshuvah, however, is stringent even in such a case. One who teaches Torah to the masses or is lecturing to a group and feels the need to relieve himself is permitted to refrain from relieving himself, as the prohibition of baal tishaktzu is only rabbinic in nature, and this prohibition is superseded by the concept of kavod habriyos, dignity of HaShem’s creations.

Tefillah Translated and Elucidated

Vaani birov chasdecho avo veisecho eshtachaveh el heichal kodshecha biyirosecho, but I, through Your abundant kindness I will enter Your house; I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You. In this verse (Tehillim 5:8) Dovid HaMelech declares that the only manner in which one can enter before HaShem is through HaShem’s kindness. Every second that we exist is through HaShem’s kindness. It is said (Iyov 41:3) mi hikdimani vaashaleim tachas kol hashamayim li hu, whoever anticipated Me, I can reward him, for whatever is under all the heavens is mine! The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 27:2) states that HaShem declares: “who praised Me prior to My giving him a soul, and who praised My Name prior to My giving him a son, who made a fence for his roof prior to My giving him a roof etc.” Thus, we must acknowledge that even our ability to enter a house of prayer to praise HaShem is only because HaShem gave us the ability to do so. Alternatively, we say that we enter HaShem’s house with abundant kindness, and the Zohar states that one should not enter the House of Prayer until he takes counsel from the Patriarchs, as the word chasdecho, kindness, reflects Avraham, eshtachaveh el heichal kodshecha, I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary, reflects Yitzchak, and the words biyirosecho, in awe of You, reflects Yaakov.

Tefillah Tale

The children were the first to notice his absence. Perhaps it was the lack of candies that he customarily gave out to the children which caused them to worry about him and to inquire about his absence. The elderly candy man had been a fixture at the shul in Manhattan for years, but no one knew much about him. He used to come daily to the shul, and would sit in his place and daven or learn. He preferred to remain alone for Shabbos, and never engaged in small talk. No one knew whether he had a family or had always been alone. The children continued to worry about his absence, and the neighbors and shul members soon became concerned as well. The Rav of the neighborhood decided to visit the elderly man and inquire about his welfare. The Rav, accompanied by several shul members, knocked on the door but no response was heard. They knocked again, but there was no sign of life from within. They decided to summon the police, who knocked down the door. They found him lying lifeless on his bed. The Rav and others began searching the apartment for papers, hoping they would find the number of relatives who could come to the levaya. Eventually, they found some personal papers, and the telephone number of the man’s son. The Rav immediately called the number to inform him of his father’s death, and to confer with him about the time of the levaya. The Rav successfully contacted the son, but it quickly became apparent that the son had long abandoned his heritage and his past. He shouted in the phone, “I haven’t seen or spoken with my father for twenty years, and there is no reason I should come to his levaya!” The Rav was shocked but he didn’t relent. “What about Kaddish for your father?” That alone is sufficient reason to come to the levaya.” The son replied, “I don’t keep Torah and Mitzvos, and I don’t believe in Kaddish, and therefore I’m not saying Kaddish, and I’m not coming to the levaya.” The Rav, however, was not going to be put off so easily. He explained, “Do you know what Kaddish is? Kaddish is not a tefillah on the niftar. Kaddish is a tefillah which exalts the name of Hashem Yisbarach, a tefillah which saves from punishments and harsh decrees, a tefillah which lengthens the life and years of the one who says it. Through saying Kaddish, one merits to glorify the name of Shamayim by causing others to answer, Amen Yehei Shemei Rabbah, which is the essence of Kaddish. Come and daven for yourself. You’ve hurt your father your whole life; at least give him the final honor and the wealth of Olam Haba.” After a long conversation and much convincing, the son finally agreed to come to the levaya and say Kaddish. Setting a time for the funeral wasn’t simple either. The son was a successful businessman who had a large office in the Twin Towers. He finally agreed that the funeral would be held before his office opened so he wouldn’t miss any work that day. The funeral was set for September 11, 8:00 A.M. The son appeared and requested that the funeral begin immediately. The funeral began, and the son said Kaddish, repeating the words after the Rav without emotion or concentration. The Rav began saying a hesped, and then one of the neighbors began a hesped, but was not successful in finishing it. Word about the tragedies at the Twin Towers had begun filtering in and people began leaving the funeral to inquire about the welfare of their loved ones. The son remained behind standing next to the kever, completely stunned. For the first time in many years, he felt a closeness to his father. He looked at the kever and said, “Abba, I received my life as a gift in your merit.” (Shiru Lamelech) [Reprinted with permission from]

Tefillah Test

Last week we posed the 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? The Yaavetz in his Siddur writes that the word Ado-nai refers to Avraham, who referred to HaShem as Ado-nai, and publicized HaShem as the Master of the world.

This week’s question is, why do we recite in Shemone Esrei that HaShem is harotzeh bisshuvah, the One Who desires repentance. Repentance is a mitzvah in the Torah, so we should say that HaShem commands us to perform the mitzvah of repentance? 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 3

Is sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Cohen in loving memory of Mrs. Davida Cohen’s father, Meir Nassan Ben Dovid, Niftar 28 Menachem Av

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.

For sponsorships please call 248-506-0363.

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