22 Dec Praying Like a Mentch
In the Kisvei Rebbe Yehuda Halevi we find a scary thought. He writes that sometimes Hashem will withhold someone’s livelihood or other needs in order to motivate him to reconnect with his Creator through tefilah. How scary a notion! Indeed, we find in today’s collapsing COVID-19 economy many people scurrying anew with feverish zeal to their Tehillim books and Siddurim begging Hashem to come to the rescue.
How important is the Gemora in Sanhedrin, “L’olam yakdim adam tefilah l’tzorah — One should always pray before distress befalls him.” So too we find that when suffering befell Iyov, his colleagues asked him, “Haya aroch shuacha shelo batzor — Did you arrange your prayers before your travail?” In a similar vein, the Gemora in Masechtas Shabbos tells us the important directive, “L’olam yispallel adam shelo yechele — A person should always pray not to become sick.” As the commentators teach us, it is much easier to thwart the decree before it happens than after the hammer strikes.
Thus we find that a very important discipline of tefilah is to pray in anticipation rather than in reaction. This is what the well-known posuk says in Asheri, “Karov Hashem l’chal kor’ov, l’chol asher yikrauhu ve-emes — Hashem is close to all those that call to Him, namely to all those who call to Him in truth.” Note the emphasis: those that call in truth, rather than in need.
We are charged to pray to Hashem before we are propelled to do so. We therefore can understand the famous verse, “Ashrei adam m’facheid tomid – Fortunate is the one who is always fearful.” We cannot interpret this to be referring to the worrywart for the Gemora tells us that worry breaks the very spirit of Man. Rather, the verse is lauding the virtues of one who is ever mindful of dangers that can happen and constantly prays for Divine protection.
Thus, when we hear of school bus tragedies, it reminds us to pray for the safety of our children. When we hear of someone suffering from coronavirus or dreaded diseases, it prompts us to pray for a healthy body. When we see flashing lights on the highway, it should jolt us to pray for safe travel. When we see the frightening number of unmarried singles before us, we should pray at an early stage that our children find their destined mate easily, and that when the do get married, they should live in harmony, conceive and have children. With the baby-boomer generation rapidly approaching retirement, we should pray that we age gracefully and not need to become a burden on our children and grandchildren.
Suffice it to say, that with proper anticipatory training, our tefilahs should be able to take on enough of a variety that we should be able to successfully avoid the great pitfall of our tefilos becoming repetitive and a boring routine.
It behooves us to remember Reb Yehuda Halevi’s urgent dynamic, that if we ignore Hashem and fail to connect with Him through the gift of prayer, He might, chas v’shalom, lo aleinu, motivate us by withholding something from us that is important and dear to us. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to self-motivate in this all-important life’s arena.
I would like to share with you a wonderful tool we have just been blessed with to aid us in better prayer. ArtScroll has a superb sefer by Rav Schwab, zt”l, on proper prayer. It is a ‘must read’ for every serious student of proper tefilah. Rav Schwab relates the well-known Talmudic dictum that our tefilahs were enacted to correspond to the korbanos. And, just like the root of the word korban/sacrifice is k’rov, which means to come close, so too the aim our prayer is to come close to Hashem.
Carrying the analogy one step further, Rav Schwab says that there are three steps in the bringing of a korban: Hefshet, flaying the animal of its skin; Nituach, dissecting it into its many separate limbs; and finally v’kalil la’ishim, consigning it to the fire. In a similar vein, Rav Schwab says, we find these steps by our prayer as well. The flaying is when we strip ourselves of our worldly thoughts as we get ready to talk to Hashem. Thus, in preparation for tefilah, we block out thoughts of clients and carpools, dinner and fashions, vacations and recreation. The dissecting part is accomplished when we work to humble ourselves and cut ourselves down to size in preparation to approach our Maker. For, as we are taught, the proper approach to prayer is to envision ourselves as an, “Oni ha-omeid al ha-pesach — A pauper standing by the door asking for mercy.” As the posuk tells us, “Lev nishbar v’nitke Elokim lo sivze — A heart that is broken and crushed Hashem does not despise.” Finally, Rav Schwab concludes that the analogy to consigning the sacrifice to the fire is when we pray with fiery passion.
I once heard from a Mr. Lowinger in the name of his father that since every sacrifice is accompanied with salt, where is the salt in our prayers? He answered beautifully that if we accompany our prayer with some tears, we even include salt in our tefilos since the tears contain salt.
Once again, in the merit of our efforts in the arena of prayer, may Hashem fulfill all of our wishes.