By Rabbi Yechezkel Spanglet
Emunah and Tefillah are similar and have the same purpose. Although they interact with each other, emunah more involves the seichel and tefillah the heart as the Gemarah teaches, “You should love Hashem Elokecha with all of your heart…” What is service of the heart (avodah sheb’lev)? It is tefillah (Taanis 2a). Rav Eliyahu Dessler comments that tefillah offers the opportunity to express the innermost longings of the heart. This devotion of the heart can bring us to a level “where heaven touches earth.” The primary purpose of tefillah is to bring us to cling (d’veikus) to Hashem. (Michhtav MeEliyahu, Chelek 3, pg.64). This goal of bonding with the Al-lmighty parallels the goal of emunah.
Tefillah is one of the most elevating and profound experiences in avodas Hashem. For that reason, we must we must feel and relate to Hashem as a real personality. We are truly standing before our Father, who is Omnipotent, who loves us and listens. The Meshech Chachmah states the “Just as Hashem’s capability is unlimited and infinite, so is He capable of functioning in a finite and limited way.” (Breishis 1:1) Herein lies one of the greatest kindnesses that Hashem bestows upon us. He, so to speak, changes His essence in order to relate to us and hear our prayers like a man to a friend.(Rav Shimshon Pincus, Shaarei Emunah, ch.1) This is illustrated by the following story:
A blind man slowly reached the kosel. He caressed the stones and burst into tears. He began a running conversation about everything that happened that day, the trivial as well as the major events. In the middle, he suddenly interrupted himself, “Oh Hashem, I think I told you that last week, I hope You don’t mind me repeating it.”
Are our tefillot answered? The Steipler Gaon comments that when one dovens sincerely, “the answer is yes.” The petitioner’s tefillot may be answered immediately, in 30 years or even after he is in the Olam Haemes. Otherwise the tefillah will help his children or grandchildren. (Eitzos V’ hadrachos, Rav Dr. Yaakov Greenwald, 5751, pg. 110).
However, dovening properly, presents formidable challenges. Rav Shalom Schradron, זצ”ל, makes a poignant point through the following mashal:
A man, buying fruit and vegetables, at the marketplace, feels a bang on his chest. He continues shopping and immediately feels another jab. Wondering who could have done such a travesty, he realizes that he is the culprit. He had arrived at selach lanoo in Shemonah Esrai.
So it is during tefillah, that our thoughts wander all over the world. Sometimes the sound of the speed (of prayer) competes with the speed of sound. Dovening to the Hashem sometimes becomes a matter of rote. How do we rectify such circumstances?
Here are some ideas that might help improve our teffilot:
- Realizing Before Whom We Stand- We have been given an opportunity to have a personal rendezvous with the Rebono Shel Olam, our Life Sustaining, Merciful and Awesome Creator. At the time of tefillah, it is very helpful to think that we are about to engage in one of the most precious opportunities in the universe. We stand before the Melech pouring out our hearts with petitions, praises and thanks. However, we usually cry out to the Al-lmighty to express our personal problems and woes. The following story provides a new dimension.
After the esteemed director of Ezer Metziyon, Rav Cholak, finished sitting with a donor, he suggested that they pop over to the Kosel. They saw a man there shaking and dovening with great fervor. Rav Cholak mentioned to his friend “if there is a medical problem, I will take care of it. If it’s a financial difficulty, you’ll be on top of it.” The friend nodded his head. They approached the man and asked if anything was wrong. He replied, “Everything is fine.” Continuing to tremble and doven intensely, Rav Cholak approached him again and queried, “But you appear to be in great distress.” “Oh no, he replied,”I just married off my last child. I came to pour out my thanks and praises to the Al-mighty.”
2) Develop a Familiarity with the Words– If we don’t know the meaning of the Hebrew words, we should look them up in a dictionary or spend a certain amount of time each day studying from a linear siddur. It is very important to understand what we are saying and how it greatly enhances our kavanah.
3) Day and Night- Rav Avrohom Schor,Shlita stated that a tired person is equated to a home with four open doors. Fatigue opens more doors of distraction and gives the yetzer harah an advantage on the battle field. In the morning, a ben Torah awakes and instead of turning on the other side, realizes,”’HASHEM HAS RETURNED MY NESHAMA.”’ It has been said regarding Rav Tzvi Meir Silverberg that he literally springs out of bed each morning.
5) Arrive at Bait Knesset on Time– The mispallel has an especially important “meeting” to attend at a specific time. One of the most effective aids to a successful davening is allowing the time to express one’s words with kavana, without worrying about keeping up with the pace.
Rav Yitzchak Silberstein relates a story about a Yid who would habitually arrive to dovening 10 minute late, three time a day. His Rav continuously entreated him to come on time for his sake and not be a negative example to the tzibbur. His excuse was always the same. “What’s the difference if I come ten minutes late as long as I come”. One morning he shows up exactly on time.
The Rav was quite surprised and asked, “What caused the change”. He replied trembling, “My factory caught on fire last night.” The Rav continued. That’s horrible, but what’s the connection to dovening.” “Well, he sighed, “I called the fire department and they said they were coming immediately. They arrived after my factory practically burnt to the ground”. When I asked the firemen, “But you said you were coming immediately,” the fireman retorted, “What’s the difference if we come ten minutes late, the main thing is that we came.” I realized that was the same excuse I constantly used to rationalize my negligence. I learned how important minutes are; in ten minutes one can build or destroy worlds.” (Barchi Nafshi-Parshas Vayishlach)
6) Focus. It is best for one to sit quietly in his seat, calmly, a few minutes before dovening begins. He puts all foreign thoughts out of his mind. Eyes glued to the siddur, he can follow the tefillah with his finger. – Rav Shimshon Pincus. . (Sichos-Pesach) states If one yearns to develop as connection with Hashem, it will with help with kavanah all year around.
7) Do Not Despair if it’s Not Going as Planned- The Chofetz Chayim conveys the following mashal:
A person is given twenty minutes to fill bags with emeralds and precious jewels surrounding him. Realizing that he has “time”, he dozes off. He is jolted out of his stupor, with only five minutes remaining. Instead of giving up, he takes advantage of lost time by swooping up as many precious stones as possible.
The Tzadik from Radin continues, the same applies by dovening- if we suddenly find ourselves by Al Hatzadikim in Shemonah Esrei, we should commence with kavanah without worrying about what was lost. The Gemara (Brochos 32b) teaches that tefillah requires constant chizuk. Worrying about what we haven’t done can torpedo what we still can do! Besides, the Al-lmighty appreciates our efforts.
May Hashem grant us the insight to take full advantage of the treasure called tefillah.