Sometimes we have to travel halfway around the globe to hear a good question. Last month, during my trip to Los Angeles I gave a shiur at LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) entitled “Ten Tips to Tefillah – Empower your Daily Prayer” and, as you can guess, it was based on this series. After the class, a woman approached me and said that she really enjoyed the shiur, but was wondering if she could ask me a question.
In the shiur I had explained that tefillah is a meeting with Hashem. However, this meeting seems to be one-sided. We speak to Hashem but Hashem does not talk back to us. Wouldn’t it be better if He also spoke to us? For example: He could tell us that He heard our request and has decided to either fulfill it, deny it, or perhaps to wait. Why is it that when we pray we do not hear any response from Hashem?
Now that’s a question!
I answered that we do indeed have a method of receiving communication from Hashem, and that is by becoming a prophet. However, in our times it is impossible to do so, as Hashem terminated the era of prophecy at the beginning of the second Bais HaMikdash. There are a few holy people in our generation who have ruach hakodesh – divine inspiration – but the average layman does not merit such messages.
Place Your Burden On Him
Then I told her that even when we had prophecy, prayer was not meant for receiving communications from Hashem. The truth is that Hashem knows exactly what we need, even without our asking. The reason we daven is so that we should realize that everything is from Hashem. Indeed, the Chovos Halevavos writes (Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh, chapter 3, cheshbon 9) that one of the purposes of prayer is to put our full trust in Hashem. We take all our worries and needs and hand them to Hashem saying: “Please take care of us.” We say, “You are the One who bestows wisdom upon man – only You. Therefore we turn to You to give us wisdom. You are the only one who can bestow peace – so we turn to You and ask for peace – the blessing that contains everything!” We know he is listening but we do not expect a direct answer from Him, as that is not why we pray.
Throughout the day, we are busy with our lives and jobs, and we tend to forget Hashem. Says the Kuzari (3:5) “The neshama needs tefillah just as the body requires food. One prayer lasts a person until his next prayer, just like lunch gives him strength until supper. And the more time that passes since he has prayed, the weaker he gets due to his interaction with worldly matters. And certainly this is the case if he has dealings with foolish or bad people, and hears from them coarse and lowly words or songs that sully the pureness of his soul. When he prays, he purifies his soul from these occurrences and is also fortified against future evils.” This is why we must pray three times a day.
When we daven we strengthen our awareness that Hashem is leading our lives and we also cleanse our souls from mistaken assumptions and bad influences. We can compare prayer to going to a gas station that has a car wash. Not only do we fill our tanks with gas – we get clean inside out. This is the great opportunity that prayer offers us – but if we pray by rote it may just slip through our fingers.
What can we do to help us feel that we are placing our burden on Hashem? Perhaps the great Yom Tov of Shavuos will give us an opportunity.
The Jewish nation is known for its unbelievable love of kindness. The number of chesed organizations we have and the amount of charity that pours out of our communities is mind-boggling – and it’s not all just for us, we do chesed with the nations of the world as well. Where did this begin? “Chesed l’Avraham” – this desire to help others is deeply ingrained in our genes from our forefather Avraham. But on Har Sinai this trait became an even stronger part of our nation.
We say in the end of Shemoneh Esrei, in the bracha of sim shalom: “Ki be’or panecha nasata lanu … toras chaim v’ahavas chesed – for with the light of Your countenance You gave us the Torah of life and a love of kindness.” The Chafetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed part 2 perek 2) explains that during the great revelation on Har Sinai we were shown two things: First, that Torah is the life of the world. Hashem opened the entire world in front of our eyes – all the way up to the heights of the seventh heaven and down to the depths of the earth. We saw that there is nothing in the universe besides Torah and that the whole world is contingent on our learning it. If there would be even one moment without the learning of Torah, the world would return to nothingness. This realization gave us a great appreciation of what Torah is.
Second, at that great moment, when the inner workings of the world were revealed to us, it was absolutely clear that the universe existed only because of Hashem’s never ending kindness. Olam chesed yibaneh – the world is built upon kindness. If Hashem were to deal with us based on our actions, we would not stand a chance. Hashem is constantly giving to the entire world. Seeing this instilled in us “ahavas chesed” a love of kindness, as we also want to follow in Hashem’s ways.
The Chovos Halevavos writes (Shaar Habitachon chapter 2) that the prerequisite for trusting someone is knowing that he or she only wants to bestow good. In the blessing of Modim we say that Hashem is “Hatov” – the epitome of good. “Ki lo chalu rachamecha – for His mercy never ends.” At Har Sinai we saw this clearly, especially because He gave us His Torah – the greatest gift in the universe, as the mishna says in Avos (6:3): “V’ain tov elah torah – and only Torah is truly good.” Can we imagine a life without Torah? Torah gives us a purpose and lifts us above our animalistic character traits. A family with Torah is beautiful. We have Shabbos where the whole family sits around the table without their smartphones and actually bond together. Shabbos gives us true relaxation and freedom. The Torah shows us how to really enjoy the simple pleasures of this world, instead of constantly looking for new and forbidden escapes.
The Torah also teaches us how to look at our daily lives and see all the good that Hashem bestows upon us, even if we may not necessarily deserve it. And finally, it shows us that Hashem does speak to us – not with words, but allowing us to come closer to Him. The more we are aware of how good Hashem is, the easier it will be to put our “pekel,” our burden, on Hashem’s “shoulders” and our tefillah will become so much more real to us!