Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tefillah I

One opinion, cited in the Rosh, is that an established Tefilah that Anshei Kenses Hagedolah made and that we routinely say, does not need any Malachim to bring them to Hashem, but a "private" Tefilah, like where someone rachmana latzlan has a choleh that he prays for, does need Malachim to bring the Tefilah to Hashem.
You can pray in any language (don't forget - kaddish and a few other prayers are in a foreign language). However, for the regular text of the prayers we do not use foreign language since an exact translation would be nigh impossible. But for the "personal" prayers, inserted in shema koleinu or elokai netzor, we can and if necessary do pray in foreign languages.

The reason for structured prayer is because Chazal formulated the precise words which will maximize our chances for being answered. It's like when you go to a King with a request, you may get a professional writer to prepare a text for you. The nusach hatefilah is much more than mere words, but that's the general idea.

You have to look at davening as what it is - more than just asking Hashem for things - when you step up to Shemona Esrei, you enter in front of Hashem, and your Neshomna gets its daily sustenance.

Your soul in this world is out of it environment. It's like living underwater. You have to come up for breath every now and then.

Davening has a special power that Chazal instilled through their special Nusach, to connect your Neshomah to Hashem such that the "oxygen" of Hashem's world shoots straight into your soul. And it lasts until the next davening. But it only works if Your Neshoma - controlled by your thoughts, your Kavanah - is in tune with Hashem. If you stand there during davening realizing that you are connecting to Hashem in a very special way, a way that you cannot duplicate any other way - then your Neshoma gets its daily does of spiritual sustenance, straight from Hashem's world.
The reason Chazal made you pray for the things in Shemona Esray is because you need them. Everyone does. And the Anshei Kneses HaGedolah used their Ruach HaKodesh to say things in the most powerfully holy manner in a way that it is most likely to be accepted.

You fulfill your Mitzvah of Davening, though not in the best way, if you merely have in mind during Shmona Esray that you are standing in front of Hashem, even if you do not know the words.

If it is too difficult for you to learn the meaning of the words, then what you should do is, go through each of the 19 Brachos of Shmona Esray with an english siddur, and just check out what it is that each Brachah is praying for. Write down that general theme in your Siddur at the beginning of each Brachah.

In other words, by "refa'einu" write "healing the sick"; by "chonen hadaas" write "knowledge" etc., so that you will know what you are praying for in each Brachah even if you do not know the exact words. Have in mind during each Brachah the particular thing(s) that you are praying for.

That is the start of understanding the words.

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Hashem can give us what we need without praying, but that is exactly the point - our prayers are designed only to bring us closer to Hashem by exercising our "belief" muscles by asking Him and thanking Him for everything we want. He decides in the end - and He knew before - what is best for us. And that is how He responds.

Usually. Sometimes, Tefilah will overturn a bad decree. For every story you know of someone not getting answered the way he wanted, there is a story where people prayed for the most unlikely even miraculous thing, and it happened against all odds.

The fact that G-d does not give you what you want does not mean that what you wanted was best for you. In the end, our Seforim tell us, you will be happy G-d did not give you what you wanted.

Like the girl on the boards who was so upset that she couldn’t go to Israel to the seminary she wanted to last year. Until I pointed out to her that the Machane Yehuda bomb was very close to that seminary and the girls from there usually hang out in MY. Who knows - when this girl comes to Hashem with complaints how come He didn’t let her go to the seminary, Hashem will maybe show her a video of what would’ve happened to her had she gone there. Then she will get down on her knees thanking G-d for not answering her prayer.

We know that when Hashem doesn't respond the way you want it is because He chooses to say no, from our Seforim. There is no other option. Hashem can’t "not listen". He is omnipotent and omniscient. He not only knows every word you uttered but He caused your mouth to utter them. You made the choice to pray - that's your free will - but He caused your body to work and utter the prayer. There's no such thing that He just doesn't hear.

It is true that Hashem is benevolent to the point where He will give people things, often even though they don't say thank you. But that doesn't make it right. And they are just harming themselves, as per the Chofetz Chaim’s moshol:

Someone rebelled against the king. As a punishment, the king put him in a crystal inescapable house in the middle of the city with no food and water, to slowly starve to death in full view of the public.

The first day he does fine, the second day you see him getting really really hungry, the third day he’s lying there starving, and then, and then he gets so desperate from hunger that he takes a bite out of his own arm!

Right then a visitor to the city passes by and asks what's going on. They tell him that this guy tried to kill the king and this is his punishment.

"Punishment?" he says. "What punishment? This guy is sitting in a crystal house eating meat!"

"Yes, but the meat he is eating is his own flesh." comes the answer.

So too, said the Chofetz Chaim, people who do not pray sometimes do get stuff in this world. But since they did not pray for it, it comes out of their Olam Habah. So yes, they are eating meat, and the guy who prays is eating meat. But the guy who doesn't pray and ends up eating meat is taking a bite out of his own flesh - his own soul - his own Olam Habah.

If you would get a perspective on why Hashem is not giving you what you want, and why He sometimes does not allow you to have what you ask for - that it is all for the best - you wouldn't be so depressed about it. Like the girl who didn’t get to go to seminary.

"Just as we thank Hashem for the good, we thank Him for the bad" - because whatever happens is for the best.


Hashem does what is good, but you have a responsibility to "assist" Him in doing that. That responsibility includes davening. If you choose not to daven, then you lose much good that Hashem was prepared to give you.

Even when Tefilos are not answered, they still, if done properly (meaning, with a minyan, or with tears, etc) elicit a response from Hashem. That response may come in the form of an unexpected benefit later on in life, or a benefit that you did not even know you would need. The tefiloh may not do what you wanted it to do, but it will do something. But the meaning of the Gemora is that you should try again. It often works, but no guarantees.

The reason we pray for specific requests is, as I mentioned before, that your praying is often a condition to His giving. Your prayers can cause those things to happen. No guarantees, though.

It's like anything else in life. You go to the doctor - no guarantees he will succeed, but you go anyway; you go to work - no guarantee that you will be successful, but you go anyway. We put an effort in to our lives. Praying is such an effort - but it works directly through the source of the benefit, and it is superior to other means of effort in that (a) your efforts always bring fruits (even if not the ones you wanted, and (b) never will you receive something that is not good for you, if you received it through prayer.

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Look at Davening as another form of Hishtadlus.
If someone is sick, and goes to a top doctor who saves him, would he have been saved if there was no doctor for him? And if so, is it fair that someone should live based on the efforts and availability of someone else, i.e. the doctor?

The answer is, the doctor does nothing. Only Hashem decides who should live or die. However, Hashem wants that in this world we should behave as though we were running things, in order to acquire desirable character traits, such as caring for others, and in order to maintain our Bechirah (if everything would happen supernaturally it would negate free will to have Bitachon).

So the doctor should try his hardest and we should try to get the best doctors. That’s out job. Hashem, on the other hand, is manipulating things from His own vantage point. If this person is going to die, perhaps he will arrange that he won’ have access to the necessary doctor. If the person is going to live, Hashem will manipulate things so that the right doctor will be in the right place in the right time.

So does Hashem decide? Yes.

Hashem works through skilled doctors in a way differently than He works through shabby doctors – the skilled doctors have a greater record of Siyata D’Shmaya.

A good Jew’s prayer is like a good doctor’s scalpel. We have an obligation to try our best by praying; the doctor has an obligation to try his best by curing. Neither we nor the doctor make the decision. But it will seem as if it did. When someone’s prayers help the sick person, it’s the same as if a great doctor’s skill did. You would thank the doctor and recommend him to others, and you would feel that without him, the patient would have died. But you know deep down that it was Hashem working through the doctor.

So too when people pray.

Asking why should we pray if Hashem decides anyway is the same as asking why should a doctor bother trying hard if Hashem decides anyway. Just apply what you understand about simple Hishtadlus, to prayer.

But there is a different concept, that even if a person’s time to die has arrived, if his death with negatively affect others, then Hashem may give the person extra life in this world for the sake of those who need him.

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What it means when it says Hashem "davens", is, Hashem is expressing His desire that WE should not do things to make Him angry. It's kavyachol like Hashem is saying "I hope they do not do anything to make me angry". It doesn't mean Hashem is davening literally.

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Tehillim are prayers, as opposed to the rest of Tanach which are narratives (most of it), or life- lessons (such as Mishle or Koheles).

The prayers were written with Ruach HaKodesh, and were designed to apply to various general situations, not only to King Dovid's. The prayers were very skillfully composed - the right words to accomplish the right goal - and so we use them for ourselves.

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I don't know why G-d decided not to give someone what he wanted, but one thing's for sure -- it has nothing to do with His not being nice, c"v. Could be lots of things. Consider the case of a bad grade on a test:

1) Everything Hashem does is for the best. If Hashem didn't want you to get a better mark on the test, could be because He wants you to put in more effort on your own, and then He will help you, but maybe He expects more effort on your part in terms of studying.....maybe He knows that by studying harder you'll get the skills to pass other tests in the future, not to mention acquiring the discipline to help you in other areas of life. Or maybe .... Hashem wanted you to start reading this, which - who knows? - you may gain from more than the extra few points on the test. Whatever. I'm not Hashem, but I do know that whatever Hashem does is for a reason. In this case there could be tons of reasons.

2) No Tefilah is left unanswered. When it seems that Hashem does not answer your prayers, what is happening is that He is "storing" those prayers for a different time, perhaps in the future you will need something but you will not realize you should pray for it, or even perhaps your children will need something and you won't be there to help them, or to pray for them even. Hashem knows this, and so He saves your Tefilah sometimes to where you would want it used even more.

3) You never know how you would have done without your prayers....

Bottom line, one day when you see what Hashem did with your Tefilos, you will thank Him for using them however He did. You just have to trust Him that He knows what He's doing.

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Do people really not have a "two sided relationship" with Hashem?

Who gave you your eyes, for example? Did you pay for them? Did you earn them? Who keeps them running smoothly day after day?

How much would you sell your eyes for? A million dollars? Ten million?

Or your arms, or your legs, or your heart.

Who provides you with the air you breathe? The food you eat?

Do you not think that Hashem, Who gives and gives and gives all of this to you with no benefit to Himself whatsoever does not deserve a "thank you" in the form of Tefilah?

The word "Boruch" means "thank you". It comes from the word "berech" meaning "knee." Literally, Boruch ata Hashem means "I bend my knee to you, Hashem". Or: Thank you, Hashem.

He gives you eyes and all he asks is that you do not look in certain places.

He gives you a home and all he asks is that you put on a mezuzah.

He gives you food and all he asks is that you make a brachah.

He gives you a week of life and all He asks is that you keep His Shabbos.

Even if you do not get what you want out of Hashem, you still have so much that you want from Him that even if you spent your whole life praying it would still be absolutely nothing compared to what we all owe Him.

Your relationship with Hashem is, in a sense, one-way. But not the way you think.

Hashem gains NOTHING out of your Mitzvos. He does not ask anything of you for Himself. All your Mitzvos do is get you closer to perfection, so that when your physical life is over in this world, you can have infinite, never-ending pleasure beyond your imagining.

There is nothing in this for Hashem. He has everything already, and your prayers and your Mitzvos do not benefit him in any way at all. They are for your good, not his.

Your prayers and your Mitzvos do so much good for you, and zero benefit for Hashem, your relationship is indeed one way - Hashem gives and gets nothing in return.

The reason he gives is because He loves you.

And as such, whatever he does is for your benefit. If He thought that now is the time for x to happen He would have made it happen. I know it is sometimes hard to understand why Hashem does not give us what we believe we need but we have to realize that He has no other motive other than our benefit, and so whatever he does is for the best. Only He, in His infinite wisdom, knows what best is.

It’s like the baby sitting on the floor in his back yard and suddenly finds a new toy - a broken shard of green glass from a beer bottle. He picks up the glass and starts playing with it. Suddenly he realizes that when he looks through the glass, the whole world turns green! He's so excited and amused by his new discovery - he can turn the world green at will - that he forgets everything else in the world and turns his attention to his new treasure.

After a while, his mother comes out and sees her baby sitting there holding this broken shard of glass right at his eye! She gasps, and, heart racing, quickly runs over to the baby slapping that sharp shard out of his hand, and firmly tells him "Never, never! Pick up garbage!". Boruch Hashem, she thinks to herself, that she got there before her baby hurt himself.

Meanwhile, the baby is angry at the mother. He can't understand why his mother committed an act of such base cruelty!

Here he was, sitting and minding his own business, having fun - with a toy that he found himself! He didn't even have to trouble his mother to get it for him! - and she comes out and for no reason at all, takes it away from him! And in such an abrupt manner!"

Hashem is like the mother, and we are like the baby. We have only finite knowledge of what’s good for us - spiritually and physically. Sometimes Hashem will take away something we think is totally beneficial for us, and harmless, but He knows better. And sometimes, it so hard for us to understand why Hashem is not giving us what we want, or why He takes away something so dear and precious to us. But we have to be high and smart and wise and realize that we are under Hashem's hashgacha and that He does for us only what is best for us.

There's another thing, too. All tefilos are answered. Maybe not in the way you expect, but they are.

So don't worry. Hashem will answer your prayers - He always does. And if He is not answering them now, in the way you want, that is because He is saving those prayers for something much more important to you.

So keep sending those prayers upstairs! They're all, each and every one of them, earning interest until they can pay maximum benefits.

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The following are listed in Chazal as ways to get your prayers answered:

1) Davening in Shul

2) Davening with a Minyan

3) Crying during Davening (sincerely, of course)

4) Not speaking Loshon Horah

5) Having Kavanah and paying attention to each word

6) Learning Torah; being a Talmid Chacham

7) Learning Torah through difficult times

8) Strengthening yourself in your Davening even though it is difficult

9) Having mercy on people

10) Doing Chesed

11) Doing the Mitzvos and keeping all the Halachos (if we listen to Hashem, He listens to us)


Even with all this, there could be a number of reasons why Hashem does not give us what we want.

Maybe what you are asking for is not really good for you....

Or maybe what you are asking for is incompatible with Hashem’s plans for what He wants to happen in the world.

When either of these two happen, your prayers ARE answered, just not in the way you wanted. There is no legitimate Tefilah that is not answered. In other words, let’s say you pray for an ailing patient to recover, but in Hashem’s plan, this person is going to die no matter what. But let’s say that there is another sick person who Hashem decided may live, but he would need prayers. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough prayers to help him recover, even though he could.

So Hashem takes the prayers for the person who will inevitably die, and uses them for the second person, who has a chance to live. The prayer is never ignored. It is used in the best way possible, even if the particular thing you want is for whatever reason not possible.

I heard in the name of the Chazon Ish that the unanswered prayers of parents who saw their children go “off the derech” for Haskala at the turn of the century will ultimately cause other Jews to do teshuva.

In other words, the almost miraculous Baal Teshuva movement of the 60’s and 70’s could have been a result of those prayers.

There are other times, though, when a person’s prayers are disqualified, either because the person himself is deemed unworthy that his prayers should be answered, or the prayer itself was done in a less than proper manner. One of the reasons we pray with a Minyan is because it increases the chances of an unworthy person’s prayers to be answered. By joining in a group offering prayers together, his unworthiness may be offset by the status of someone else in the Minyan.

SOMETIMES what you are praying for is not going to happen. Other times, Hashem will only give you what you want if you pray for it.

Tefilah is the way Hashem gave us to bring His Influence ("shefa", same word as "hashpoah") into this world. There are things he wants to do, things he wants to give us. But it is up to us t "bring down" those things into this world. We do that through Tefilah.

You can 100% pray for a specific thing that you want. But you should always know that if it is bad for you, Hashem will do you a favor and not give it.

This doesn't mean you should c"v not daven, however;

1) Davening brings us closer to Hashem even we are not answered.

2) Davening itself makes us more worthy to be answered.

3) You never know who is worthy of being answered and who is not.

4) No sincere prayer goes unanswered. When we say it goes unanswered, what we mean is, you won't get what you want. But G-d will do something for someone because of your prayers.

There is a Halachah that if you are 100% that your prayers will not be answered, then your prayer is not even considered a prayer, such as when you daven in front of Tzoah, where the Gemora says your prayer will not be answered, therefore you do not fulfill your obligation to daven.

However, you cannot make such a determination on your own.

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The reason why we daven is not to let Hashem know what we want. He knows that already.

Rather, Hashem arranged the world such that there are things that we want that He is ready and willing to give us, but only if we ask for them. By davening, we fulfill our part of obtaining what Hashem has in store for us. If we don't daven, even if Hashem wants to give us what we want, could be He won't, because we didn't ask for it.

The reason He set things up like this is for our sake. By always asking for what He gives us, we thereby become more in tune with the fact that everything is under His control. Our purpose in this world is to connect to Hashem (please see the Basic Judaism forum), and part of connecting to Hashem is being mindful that He is the only power in the world and that everything that happens here is only His will. Davening helps us reach that level.

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The compilers of the Siddur were possessors of Ruach HaKodesh, and very, very holy men, and they knew precisely the best way to get Hashem to answer our prayers in the most beneficial manner. On Rosh Hashanah we blow the Shofar to invoke the memory of the Akeidah, for instance. But the Akeidah is not the only invocation possible, and the Anshei kneses Hagedolah put together the best possible combinations of words and pesukim to maximize our chances of getting our tefilos accepted.

Prayer is not just "asking" Hashem for things. It is connecting to Him in a way that His sustenance flows into this world in precisely the way that we desire. You can only make this happen because you have a soul that is able to connect to Hashem. You pray with your soul, not just with your words. And unfortunately we don't know too much about how our soul communicates with Hashem -- but Chazal did. So they told us the best way to do it.

A lot of Davening also has to do with who you are. Each Shevet (tribe) has another "pathway" though which they are capable of drawing down Hashem's sustenance to the world. One tribe cannot use the conduit of the other; it just won't work.

There's a lot more to Davening than just letting Hashem know what you want. Talking to Hashem is not the same as talking to a human being. It is a spiritual process that involves connecting your soul to the Source of sustenance of the world. Chazal taught us how to do that.

We pray not only for the purpose of communicating with Hashem. Tefilah also has an effect on us. It sanctifies us by making us closer to Hashem.

Humans are comprised of both physical and spiritual components, and it's not so easy to sanctify both of them at the same time, since what affects a physical thing won't affect a spiritual thing and vice versa.

So Hashem created a system of Mitzvos that involves (1) thought - Kavanah, (2) action - Maaseh, and (3) speech - Dibur.

The thought components of our Mitzvos affect the Neshoma, since both thought and Neshoma are spiritual. Actions affect the body - they are both physical, and speech affects your Ruach (spirit) since they are both in between.

Tefilah was designed to comprise both thought (Kavanah), speech (the words) and action (bowing and standing etc.). Each one of these components functions on its own and impacts on a different part of us. And each one, in order to properly affect us, has to be done according to the instructions of Hilchos Tefilah.

So yes, it's true that Hashem knows what we had intended to say. But if we don't say it, the "speech" component of our Tefilah is still deficient, even though the "kavanah" part may still be intact. And since the "speech" part is necessary to affect a different part of us, we have to do it over.

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