Rebbe Yehuda Halevi writes that Hashem sometimes withholds livelihood or other needs from a person in order to motivate him to reconnect with his Creator through tefillah. How scary!
The Gemara (Maseches Sanhedrin) says, “L’olam yakdim adam tefillah l’tzarah – A person should always pray before distress hits him.” 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 Gemara (Maseches Shabbos) tells us, “L’olam yispallel adam shelo yechele – A person should always pray not to become sick.” As the commentators teach us, it’s much easier to thwart a decree than to have it overturned after the hammer strikes.
A very important principle of tefillah, therefore, is to pray in anticipation rather than in reaction. In Asheri, we say, “Karov Hashem l’chal kor’ov, l’chol asher yikrauhu ve’emes – Hashem is close to all those who call to Him, to all those who call to Him in truth.” Note the end of the sentence: those who call in truth, not those who call in need.
We’re supposed to pray to Hashem before we feel compelled to do so. Thus the famous verse, “Ashrei adam m’facheid tamid – Fortunate is he who is always fearful.” This verse cannot be referring to a worrywart for the Gemara tells us that worry breaks the very spirit of man. Rather, it is referring to a person who is ever mindful of dangers that can occur and constantly prays for divine protection.
When we hear of school bus tragedies, we should pray for the safety of our children. When we hear of someone suffering from Covid-19 or another dreaded disease, we should pray for health. When we see flashing lights on the highway, we should pray for safe travels.
When we see the frightening number of unmarried singles among us, we should pray that our children find their destined mate easily when the time comes, and that when they do get married, they should live in harmony and have children. With the baby boomer generation rapidly approaching retirement, we should pray that we age gracefully and not become a burden on our children and grandchildren.
Suffice it to say that with proper anticipatory training, we should have enough tefillos to say to avoid the great pitfall of tefillah becoming a boring routine.
It behooves us also to remember Reb Yehuda Halevi’s warning 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 that’s dear to us. Therefore, we must learn to daven properly during good times.
I would like to share with you a wonderful tool we’re blessed to have: Rav Schwab on Prayer, published by ArtScroll. It’s a must read for every serious student of tefillah. In this work, Rav Schwab relates the well-known Talmudic dictum that our tefillos were enacted to correspond to the korbanos. The root of the word korban is “k’rov” (to come close), which is the aim of prayer as well – to come close to Hashem.
Carrying the analogy one step further, Rav Schwab notes that bringing a korban involves three steps: hefshet (flaying the animal), nituach (dissecting it), and finally v’kalil la’ishim (placing it in the fire). Tefillah contains these three steps as well:
First we flay ourselves, stripping our minds of worldly thoughts (e.g., clients and carpools, dinners and vacations) as we get ready to talk to Hashem. Then we do a “dissection,” cutting ourselves down to size in preparation to approach our Maker. For the proper approach to prayer is to envision ourselves as an “ani ha’omeid al ha’pesach – a pauper standing by the door asking for mercy.” Finally, we place our prayers in the fire – i.e., we pray with fiery passion.
Someone once noted that every sacrifice also came with salt and asked me, “Where is the salt in our prayers?” He answered in the name of his father that the salt comes in the form of our tears.
In the merit of our efforts in the arena of prayer, may Hashem fulfill all our wishes.