By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
We interrupt our series on tefilah for a timely discussion about Elul.
About 45 years ago, I was a student in the Yeshiva of Staten Island. One Rosh HaShanah, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, zy”a, was together with us. When everyone went to a nearby water source to say tashlich, I decided to stay in the building so that someone would be there for the Rosh Yeshiva. The only problem was that I couldn’t find him. He wasn’t in his room and he wasn’t in the Beis Medrash. Finally, I located him in the library and found him learning Mesilas Yesharim with the Alteh Rebbetzin, zt”l, zy”a. This is a wonderful maaseh rav, an actual rabbinic story revealing to us that it is good to learn mussar with one’s spouse.
My wife Shoshy, tichye, and I study Mesilas Yesharim by Rab Moshe Chaim Luzzato, zt”l, zy”a, with the wonderful commentary of Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, zy”a. In the preface to his sefer, Rav Luzzato, writes a very startling and demanding statement. He declares that if one’s service of Hashem is not sincere, pure and clean, it is nimeses u’m’soeves, repulsive and abominable. Rav Miller recalls in his commentary that when he was young and learning Mesilas Yesharim in Slabodka, when he got to this line he underlined it heavily. To me, this statement was indeed perplexing for it implies that if one prays without focus and without concentration, not only is it not a quality prayer, it is not even a parve prayer. Rather, it is disgusting.
This seems to run contrary to something we say in Shemone Esrei where it says, “Ki Attah [Hashem] shomei’ah tefilas kol peh am’cha Yisroel b’rachamim – Because You [the Almighty] listen to the prayers of all mouths of His people Yisroel with mercy.” The Mabit, in his monumental sefer on prayer, Beis Elokim, deduces from the fact that it emphasizes the prayers of every mouth, that even if the prayers stem only from the mouth and are without thought or feelings, Hashem nevertheless still mercifully listens. My good friend, Rabbi Brackenroth, told me that there is a Chassidishe saying that although Hashem listens, it is considered tefilas feh, a prayer that is considered feh (nauseating). At first glance, this troubled me. After all, the person is making the effort to daven. Why should it be considered repulsive?
The day after learning this stitch, I went to the bank in Monticello to make a deposit. While I was waiting in line, there was a person, very obviously a Jew, standing by the teller at the window. Sadly, he was behaving rather unwisely. While dealing with the teller, he was chatting on his cellphone, not even glancing or looking at the teller. I watched as the teller was obviously not appreciating his lack of etiquette. I also saw that all the people in line were looking at him with distaste as well. It was then that I realized what the Mesilas Yesharim meant. Thus, if we take three steps forward to stand before Hashem and we don’t even think about Him or what we are saying, it is very insulting to the Melech Malchei HaM’lochim, the King who appoints all kings.
This is a true task of Elul. As we all know, Elul stands for Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li – I am to my Beloved (Hashem) and my Beloved is to me.” In direct proportion to how we intensify our focus on Hashem during this month, that’s how much Hashem will step-up His attention and love to us. At the very least, we need to train ourselves to wipe the slate of our minds clean of all distractions when we embark on saying the Shemone Esrei. When we take those three steps forward, our attention should be only and exclusively focused on conversing with our Creator. In that merit, may Hashem answer our prayers and bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
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Rabbi Weiss’s Rebbetzin, Shoshy Weiss, LCSW-R is moving her therapy practice from Monroe and Monsey to Boro Park and Staten Island. She will be in Boro Park on Mondays and Staten Island on Tuesdays. She caters to women and girls only and specializes in the treatment of anxiety, low self-esteem issues, depression, trauma, and relationship enhancement. She is a specialist in EMDR and IFS (Internal Family Systems) and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). She has been practicing for over two decades. To get a slot, call or text 845.270.3699.
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