Friday, September 26, 2008

Tefillah: Birum Olam: Prayer stands at the Pinnacle of the World Volume I Issue 7

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

Volume I Issue 7

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 way one should pray and how one should conduct himself inside the shul.

Tefillah Thoughts

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman in Olas Shabbos writes: Though I am loathe to constantly bemoan the woes of contemporary society, it is impossible not to notice that the failure to translate intellectual concepts into practical reality is a malady which comes part and parcel with the age of information-overload in which we live. There is so much to know that perhaps we spend an inordinate amount of time “knowing” and not enough time “doing.” Case in point: How many different Dvar Torah papers are there on your table this Shabbos? Two, three, four? (yes - this one counts!) Gosh – it’s a wonder we still find the time to daven! We all know that “there is a time to daven and a time to learn,” yet with so much to learn - who has time to daven? (You’re not reading this during Kaddish or Chazaras HaShatz, are you? If you are, perhaps you might consider putting it down and finishing it off later - really.) I have often illustrated this concept to my students with the following example: Suppose you saw someone take out a sefer in the middle of davening and begin to learn. Soon, he was engrossed, completely oblivious to the ongoing prayers. As he animatedly studied, your curiosity overcame you: What could he be learning that has him so absorbed? You casually stroll over to his place, and glance across the table. He has a Mishna Berurah, and it is open to siman 191, paragraph 3 (Editor’s note: It would seem that the correct source for this halacha is Orach Chaim 124:4 and Mishna Berurah Ibid). What, you wonder, could be in siman 191 paragraph 3 that has so captured his attention? You look it up, and read in utter astonishment: It is forbidden to do anything else, even to look into Divrei Torah, while one is davening! This is just one example, though a poignant one, of how we fail to translate our knowledge into action. [Reprinted with permission from]

Tefillah Teachings

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

If one is certain that he cannot refrain from passing gas before completing the recitation of Shema and Shemone Esrei, it is preferable that he allows the time to recite Shema and Shemone Esrei to pass, rather than praying without a clean body. If he is uncertain that he will pass gas and he refrains from passing gas because he is concerned that he will do so during the recital of Shema or Shemone Esrei, he has acted improperly. One should not even refrain from praying with the congregation Shemone Esrei because of a possibility that he may pass gas. Rather, one should check himself prior to praying and he need not do more than this. If one is concerned that he will pass gas, if it is possible he should at least recite Shema and Shemone Esrei.

Tefillah Translated and Elucidated

Adon olam asher malach biterem kol yetzir nivra, Master of the universe, Who reigned before any form was created. The obvious question here is, how is it possible that HaShem reigned before any form was created. There is a rule that there is no king without a nation, so how could it be that HaShem is referred to as king prior to the existence of anything else in the world? The answer to this question, writes the Iyun Tefillah, is that unlike the kingship of man which is dependent on people accepting his kingship, HaShem does not depend on anything to be king. Rather, once Hashem created everything, he was then referred to as king in name.

Tefillah Tale

Rabbi Yehudah Prero writes: The prayers on Rosh Hashanah differ from the rest of the year. Some passages appear unfamiliar, with words and sentences we are not accustomed to. While it is incumbent upon us to properly prepare for this holy day, we all know that each of us has some limitations. The following lessons from Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev shed some light on how we can make the most of our prayers. Everyone assembled in the synagogue was awaiting this moment. Their spiritual leader, the sainted Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was going to sound the Shofar himself this year. They knew of his dedication to G-d. They knew of his piety. They knew that there was no more worthy person to lead the congregation in this special Mitzvah on this holy day. Rav Levi Yitzchak readied himself for this task of utmost importance. He immersed in the Mikvah, purifying himself in preparation for this hallowed duty. When the time came for him to blow the Shofar, he looked angelic, garbed in his white Kittel, enveloped in his Tallis. He recited the introductory prayers with utmost concentration, inspiring the entire congregation to do so with him. He then read a prefatory portion of the Zohar with heartfelt emotion. Now was the time for the blowing of the Shofar. The entire congregation stood with anticipation and trepidation, awaiting the blessings and the first sounds of the Shofar. But they did not come. Rav Levi Yitzchak did not recite the blessings. Instead, he placed the Shofar back down on the table before him. A few moments passed, and he again picked up the Shofar. He readied himself to recite the blessing. He hesitated, and then placed the Shofar down once again. After some time had passed, Rav Levi Yitzchak turned to the confused assembled. “My friends,” he said, “there is seated here today a man. This man is not like you or me. He was separated from his family in his youth, and has no background or familiarity with his religion. He does not know how to read Hebrew, let alone pray. He knows that today is Rosh Hashanah, a day to pray to G-d, and he therefore joined us. Standing here, he saw the entire congregation immersed in meaningful and earnest prayer. He felt a jealousy, a burning feeling of envy, because he could not participate with the congregation. This man turned his head towards heaven, and cried his heart out. ‘Our merciful Father, You know all the sincere prayers, the depths of the feelings with which they are uttered, the meanings and implications of each and every word. The only things I know are the 22 letters of the Alef-Bet. My prayer to You, on this holiest of days, is all that I know: Alef, Bet, Gimmel, etc.. Please G-d, in Your abundant kindness, join together these letters to formulate a prayer for me.;” “You should know,” Rav Levi Yitzchak said, “that this is the reason for my hesitation. G-d is in the midst of assembling this purest of pure prayers. While G-d joins together the letters uttered from the mouth of this righteous man, we must wait.” G-d values all pure prayer. Our Sages formulated prayers in a specific fashion, with a precise composition, as they were aware of the deep implications and spiritual ramifications of the words. Yet, prayer without heart is prayer without soul. [Reprinted with permission from]

Tefillah Test

Last week we posed the question: in the blessing of Teshuvah in Shemone Esrei, we recite the words hashiveinu avinu lisorasecho vikarveinu malkeinu laavodasecho vihachazireinu bisshuvah shileima lifanecho, bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah, and bring us near, our King, to Your service, and influence us to return in perfect repentance before You. Why do we first beseech HaShem to return to His Torah and bring us close to His service, and only at the end do we request that HaShem influence us to repent? It would seem that one should first repent and then he can study Torah and perform HaShem’s service. One reader wrote a very intriguing answer. One needs to perform teshuvah so that words of Torah can enter his being. Nonetheless, one needs to be inspired even to do teshuvah, so we therefore ask HaShem to inspire us first through His Torah, and then we can continue in the teshuvah process. The Eitz Yosef writes that the Mishna (Avos 3:6) states that one who removes from himself the yoke of Torah will have the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of worldly responsibilities placed on him. We therefore ask HaShem that He return us to His Torah and then bring us close to His service, so that we can serve Him alone and not be in servitude to any other kings. This does not explain, however, why we request only afterward that Hashem influence us to repent. Perhaps the simplest answer is that the Medrash (Eichah Rabbah Introduction:2) states that HaShem said, “I wish that the Jewish People would leave me, yet not forsake the Torah, as the light of the Torah will bring them back to good.” Thus, the first thing we need to do is study Torah, and through the study of Torah we are guaranteed to repent our evil ways.

This week’s question is, why is it that in certain blessings of Shemone Esrei we request of HaShem to do something for us and then we offer a reason for it, whereas in other blessings we make a request of HaShem without an explanation. An example of a blessing where we offer the reason for the request is selach lanu, where we ask HaShem to forgive us because He is a forgiving G-d. 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 7

Is sponsored by Rabbi and Mrs. Shmuel Adler from Chicago in loving memory of Sara Dinah bas Reb Shmuel ob”m, niftarah 19 Elul and in loving memory of Zissel Rivka bas Reb Gedalyah Tzvi ob”m, niftarah 25 Elul

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.

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