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Parsha Mitzvot-Eikev- Mitzvah 431-Concept 77-Serving God Through Prayer

Transcribed and unedited: There are two laws in Hilchot Tefillah. Two positive commandments. The first positive commandment is you should serve G-d every day through prayer. Second one is that the Kohanim should bless the Jewish people every day. Now why are the two together?


Serving through prayer is number one.

Number two the Ramban disagrees with the Rambam. He holds that there is not a positive commandment to pray every day. He holds that the commandment is to pray when you are in trouble. Audience: “Who says that?” The Ramban, Nachmanides.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that the truth is that in a practical or functional way, Nachmanides did not disagree with Maimonides. But he was saying that the commandment is to pray whenever you need it because you need it every day. So basically they are both saying you have to pray every day but one is saying that you have to pray only realizing how much you need to pray. That is Nachmanides, right?

The Rambam says, “No. Prayer is prayer independent of the need.” Audience: “The Rambam?” The Rambam is first syllable. The Rambam is always second syllable. Audience: “The Ramban says that you pray only when you need it because you need it every day?” The mitzvah is to pray when you need it, when you are in a Sha’at Tzara. In a time of Tzara, a time of need. Audience: “But he is saying that you should recognize you need it every day?” Audience: “But does he have a separate mitzvah then for Hoda’ah, for giving thanks?” No.

Does not say here to give thanks. Audience: “But what if you are not in a troubled time that you feel that–” Then you are in trouble for thinking that you do not need anything. Audience: “That is a little bit cynical.” Audience: “No, pray when you are in trouble because if a kid is sick automatically if you are agnostic you still pray to G-d.

So I am surprised that it is a mitzvah to pray to G-d it is such a natural thing. It is like an automatic thing if you are in trouble you will pray.” It is not natural to honor your parents? “Audience: “We are talking about praying to G-d.” Yes but you are saying why should it be a mitzvah when it is natural. See but according the Ramban the mitzvah really means that you have to acknowledge, according to Rav Soloveitchik’s explanation of the Ramban. Audience: “Yes but that is a little–” That the mitzvah is to acknowledge that every moment is a moment of need.

Audience: “Somebody can have a different interpretation that praying is just- you can include humanitarian things instead of having comments by itself–” Audience: “Instead of coming to G-d when you need it.”

But it makes you realize that you need G-d all the time.

For example remember the story when Balak hired Bilam to curse the Jews. The first thing Bilam did was he gave all these sacrifices. He ended up giving a totally of forty-nine sacrifices. Is that good or bad? It was good. And G-d responded to those sacrifices to a certain degree. Why? Because simply praying to G-d is an acknowledgement in some way that G-d listens, that G-d cares, and that G-d responds and that G-d has the power. So the act of prayer itself, no matter whether it is felt or an expression of belief, is saying that.

Even if you- I do not know if you watch Thirty Something- but his wife was dying of cancer and he went into the men’s room and he is crying on top of a toilet and he starts praying to G-d. And he is saying, “I never pray and I probably will never pray again.” And I remember that my wife said that is the way people pray.

And the fact is that it is a wonderful prayer because that means in one place in this human being there is an acknowledgement of a need for a higher power, which is a very important thing. Simply davening even when you do not mean it. Simply davening when you are angry is an expression whether you really mean it to be or not, that G-d has power, that G-d is responsive, that G-d hears you, that you have a relationship with G-d, that G-d cares. Audience: “Prayer is our love to G-d, right?” Who said?

Audience: “But that is how we started with Ahavah.” Oh you mean that is why it is in Sefer Ahavah? Yes. It is an expression. It is a way of taking love and making it tangible. Audience: “If I am praying just when I am need, it has nothing to do with love, it has more to do with I need.”

Well it depends what your definition of love is. If love is an awareness or an appreciation for who and what the other one is, the object of your love is, then yes it is an expression of love. Audience: “But if I am in trouble it is usually not an expression of love it is when–” You do not understand. But it is an expression of love. It is not romantic love but any time that I express an appreciation for the other that is defined as love.  You know the example of, I do not know whose idea it was in the practical prayer part but well I think we did this in six-thirteen. Right, I give you two choices, two stories. Okay? A man comes over to you and says, “You know, I have got to tell you. I just love my son. He is wonderful. He is tall, he is handsome, he is funny, he is full of personality, he is independent he can make it on his own. I just love him.” Somebody says, “Izzy? How could you love Izzy? He is cynical and he does this and he sits in a JSI class without paying and he gives trouble and he is just a difficult guy. How could you love him? He says, “You know, you are right. But I love him anyway.” That is one side of the story. Okay?

Let me give you another version of the story. A guy says, “You know, I just love Izzy. He comes into JSI without paying and he can be obnoxious and he can be rude and this,” and the other person says, “Yes but how could you love him? He is tall, he is handsome he has got a good heart, he is generous, he is kind, he is effective, he is smart.” “Yes but I love him anyway.” Which story makes more sense? Audience: “The first one makes more sense.” Of course it makes more sense because whenever you speak about love you speak about that which is positive in the other person. The minute you pray, whether you realize it or not, you are saying something positive about G-d. It is unbelievable.

Listen to this Gemarah with Menasheh HaMelech. Menasheh HaMelech murdered his grandfather Yishayahu HaNavi. I think you would agree not a good person. He took his Sefer Torah from the Ark of G-d, he spread it out on the floor of the Bet Hamikdash, he cut out every mention of G-d’s name and sewed in a piece of parchment with the name of an idol. Not a good guy. Agreed? Audience: “Yes.”

Okay. He also did other things on that Sefer Torah inside the sanctuary. Not a good person. He is captured by Sancheirev, the King of Assyria and he is thrown into jail. The pasuk says, that he prayed and that G-d saved him and restored him to Jerusalem. That is what it says. So the Gemarah wants to know what was it that he prayed, he must have been an incredible prayer.

Audience: “What are the names of the two sons of Aharon?” Nadav and Avihu. Audience: “Yes they did not even get to pray.” They did not get to. Well sure they did. They did we just do not know. So it is a verse. So this is the Gemarah’s version of it. Whether or not the Gemarah actually believes that this is what they said or not it is an incredibly powerful point. The Gemarah says that Menasheh HaMelech first prayed to every idol he had ever seen and of course he was not saved. Then he says to G-d, “Listen, before I pray to you I want you to understand that I have prayed to every other G-d I have ever served. They have not helped. Okay. I did not really think they would. But now I am gong to pray to You. If You answer me then You will be proving a very powerful point. You will be really teaching me a lesson if You listen to my prayer. If You do not answer me then You will simply be proving that I was right all along. That You are no different then any of these idols.”

So G-d did not know what to do. What a debater, unbelievable. So he said, “Okay, okay. I will give in.” And G-d saved him.

Audience: “ Did he change?” No, well actually it is a machloket in the Gemarah. It is in the Mishna, the first Mishna in the last parek of Sanhedrin. Audience: “But historically when he was restored to–” It does not say. It says he was a bad guy, it does not say that he did Teshuva at the end. But he says he was returned to his throne. So we do not know what returned to his throne means. Return to his throne and therefore return to his portion in Olam Haba? Or whether it means he was returned to his throne but that was it. He got his reward in this world.

Now this is an incredible prayer. If I would try something like that I would guarantee it would not work. The point is that the minute he says to G-d something like that there is just one inkling of taking G-d seriously and that prayer has incredible power. He also learned from there that you have to have Chuztpa when you pray to G-d. He is very chuzpadic. All of the most powerful prayers in the Bible were incredibly chuztpadic prayers. The three examples are Otniyel Ben Kenaz, Chana the mother of Shmuel and Menasheh HaMelech. I did this in the practical prayer class too. Audience: “Chana?” It is unbelievable. That is what you think. Anyway so if you trust me, I better go on. So she says like this, she begins her prayer by saying, “Hashem Tzevaot.” She is the first one to refer to G-d as Tzevaot. So the Gemarah wants to know why does she say Tzevaot? Tzevaot means master of the world. So Gemarah says that she meant as follows. “You created two worlds, you created the upper worlds and the lower worlds. Which one do I belong to?” Audience: “Lower.” Really? “Why because I eat, drink and waste? Then I have to have children. If I do not have children it means I belong with the angels who do not have children so which world do I belong to?” Then she said the word Tzevaot means master of the world because everything is created with a purpose. So she said, “What did you create me with breasts for, why did you create me with a womb? What for, why do I have to go through a period every month if you are going to do this to me?” And then she says, “If you see me, you will see me.” So the Gemarah says what does that mean, “If you see me, you will see me,”? So the Gemarah explains that what she says is like this. If you see me, you answer my prayer, fine. If not- what is a way a woman can be forced to go to the Beit Hamikdash? For what? Audience: “Sota.” Sota. If she is suspected of being an adulterous human she will be brought there and she will drink the water. If she drinks the water and she did not have an affair, what happens? So she had ugly children, she will have beautiful children. She did not have children, she will have children. It is a guarantee, a promise. So she said, “I will make my husband suspect me of adultery and he will come here, they will make me drink the water, of course I will not actually do it. I drink the water and because I have not had children before now you will have to give me children. So no matter what you are going to have to give me kids so you might as well give me a kid now.” Audience: “Good point.” Audience: “That is a good story.” Right? It is pure chutzpa. But read on. And remember Eli says to her- Pardon? Audience: “I think it is great, I do not think it is chutzpa.” Yes it is chutzpa. So Eli says to her, “Hey you are drunk.” She says, “Lo Adoni.” You are obviously not my master. In other words you obviously do not have the great wisdom they say you have. Very strong and that is considered chutzpa.

Otni’el ben Kenaz says to G-d, “Listen, if you give me children and you give me a lot of money and you make sure I never have a headache or my eyes never hurt and you take away the evil inclination that prevents us from reviewing what we have learnt, fine. If not I am just going to die and be miserable. Or I will be miserable and die.” So G-d says, “Okay, okay, okay.” So that is why they changed his name from Yavet to Otni’el. G-d answered me. Because he knew how to pray.

How did his mother pray, Otni’el’s mother? She said, “You know this thing is really stupid. The most powerful human experience is for a woman to have a child and you are ruining it. Why are you doing it, it is stupid.” So G-d said “Stop, stop, stop.” And it says that she did not suffer any pains.

Now obviously you have to be at a certain level to be able to pray like that which is something we discuss in the practical prayer class. But part of Tefillah is not just saying what it is you have to say.

Tefillah means Pilo, it is judgment. There is tension in Tefillah. Right, it is a reflective judgment. It is supposed to be a process of self- reflection.

But Tefillah means you are dealing with your relationship with G-d. That is what you are supposed to do. That is why it is to serve G-d every day through prayer.

You are supposed to make it really the way you serve G-d. And it is an unbelievably powerful weapon. And we do the stupidest thing.

We get a prayer book and we do not understand what it says and we take out an Artscroll and the Artscroll tells us what we are supposed to think when we are reading this paragraph which is very nice. So it is like when I see my wife I open up the Artscroll and the Artscroll says, okay, you are supposed to be turned on. “Okay, honey.” But that is the way we pray to G-d. Here you have a relationship and the way you do is every time you see something it says, okay you are supposed to be happy now. “Okay I am happy.” You are supposed to be grateful now. “Okay I am grateful.” This is the stupidest thing. Who would do that with a relationship?

Even people who follow these marriage manuals, I mean there is a limit to how much. It is not a marriage if you have to follow a marriage manual every moment of the day.  So Tefillah does not mean that you look at what everyone else is said to prayer. The whole purpose of Tefillah is simply to take moments you have experienced and nurture them so you can develop your relationship with G-d. You do not pray in order to develop a relationship with G-d. You have a relationship with G-d, all—END SIDE 1

All the great human experiences and the horrible ones that are uniquely human. That is experiencing G-dliness. You experience it all the time. Prayer simply takes it and siddur, it gives it order and direction so that you know how to go to the next step.

Prayer is not to create a relationship with G-d, it is to help you go to the next level of your relationship with G-d. You cannot walk into prayer in a vacuum. You just cannot.

So that is why the Rambam says that you are supposed to serve every day for Tefillah. And the concept of serving G-d every day – you know Biblically it was not three times a day. They used to daven when they wanted. Because their whole life was constant prayer. There whole lives were prayer because everything they did was an expression of their relationship with G-d. It is only when things became standardized because people forgot to do it. And where is prayer first mentioned in the Bible? The first time it mentions the obligation of humanity to work. That is why it says LaAvod Et Hashem B’Kol Yom Ba’Tefillah. To work for G-d every day through prayer, to serve G-d every day through prayer. The first time it says LaAvod is as follows.

It says V’Chol siyach Hasadeh Terem Yitzmach, no shrub of the field was yet in the Earth. V’Chol Eisav HaSadeh Terem Yitzmach. And no herb of the field had yet sprung up. Kih Lo Himtir Hashem Elokim Al HaAretz. For G-d the Lord had not yet caused it to rain on the land. And I am going to translate it the way Rashi translates it. V’Adam Ayin LaAvod Et HaAdamah. Because there was no human being to work the land. It is the first mention of LaAvod. So Rashi says, “What was it that this human being was supposed to do to work the land?” The human being was supposed to go in the land and say:

“Boy, you know, it looks a little dry here, G-d we need about a quarter of an inch of rain over here.”

“Alright Adam, move out of the way.” Okay you go to the next land.

“G-d it looks like it has been raining a little too much here, could we have a little sunlight. No that is a little too much. Move a cloud over there, will you?”

“Okay, sure, no problem.”

Like that. That was the original service of G-d. Audience: “How is man supposed to know this?” So the Gemarah tells you how to do it. Audience: “How is man expected to know?” What man was expected to know was to look at the world and see that it was unfinished and simply ask G-d to finish it. Audience: “But there is no concept of rain. You cannot–” I am exaggerating it. Really what he was supposed to say was that something is not finished here, we need you. Audience: “Or I have to finish your work.” No, we need You. I just simply help You finish Your work. That is where Adam and Eve got mixed up. Adam and Eve wanted to finish the work. It is very confusing. G-d did not give them instructions. G-d said, “Work.” Work can mean either I finish it or that you call on me to finish it. They thought that they were supposed to finish it so they ate of the tree. Audience: “And they were supposed to finish it for G-d?” You are supposed to ask G-d to finish it.

Audience: “Okay. It does not fit the American.” No it does not. Do you know what it fits? This is Bitachon. For example– and we talked about this yesterday. It is such an incredible idea. It means that when you – let us say you have faith. Let us say I am making a commitment to something and I have faith that it will work out. The faith I have to see, the Bitachon itself, has the accomplishment. The faith is what I have to rebel with, not the accomplishment. Do you follow? In other words I have faith that this person I am going to marry will work out. I have to stop thinking about whether the marriage will work out. To me the only think you have to be interested in is that I achieve that level of faith. Once I achieve that level of faith that is humanity, the human being, calling on G-d to finish the work. And then the work is finished. That is what Rabbeinu Yonah says based on the third perek of Mishley. It is a very powerful idea. The Bitachon is the accomplishment and that the other accomplishments result from that accomplishment. The Bitachon is not that the accomplishment will come. The Bitachon is valuable on its own. And I think that that is part of what that Rashi is saying over there in that beracha. Now that is the mitzvah of Tefillah. Tefillah also means introspection. So it is supposed to be a process of examining yourself every day on what are you doing with you time, what are you doing with your life, what are we doing. And what am I accomplishing, did I accomplish everything that I set out to do at the beginning of the day? Am I controlling the way I am supposed to be controlled? Am I applying myself to the degree that I should be applying myself? It is really a process of introspection. That is Rav Hirsch. Rav Hirsch goes on about that for a great deal.

G-d cares about the prayer simply for the relationship. G-d wants mitzvot simply for the relationship. All for the mitzvah. That is what we learn out of prayer. Audience: “So then it is okay for those people to pray at one-hundred and sixty miles per hour? Because it does not matter what they say.” If it manifests a relationship. If you would talk to someone you love, like that, and would not mean it, and that is the person would relate to you, that you belong on Saturday Night Live.

In other words if the person you love would talk to you in a way that you do not understand a single word he is saying and the person does not even think about what he is saying, would it mean anything to you? Audience: “No.” So it is not reflective of relationship. It is reflection of a certain level of relationship but at least I am committed enough that if you ask me to say it, I will say it. Audience: “And it goes back to what you said before. It is accepting that G-d is there.” At least that much, that is right. But it is certainly not prayer the way it could be. You cannot negate it.

Do you know the story with Reb Levi Yitzchak of [?Breditcher?Check spelling]? It was between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and he ran out into the market place and he took a stool and he put the stool upside down, he climbed up on the stone and he started going, “Abidada—“ like that. And everyone is embarrassed. The rabbi of the city is going insane. What is going on between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Who are we going to get to speak on Yom Kippur? The Rabbi is going to go to an insane asylum can you imagine what the papers are going to say? The Jewish Week, The New York Times, what is going to happen in the news? Oh my G-d, what is going to happen. Finally they shake him, “Rabbi what is going on?” “Abidadada—“ And they go, “Rabbi, Rabbi, you have got to calm down you are embarrassing everybody it is a Chillal Hashem. You are going to destroy the reputation. Finally he says, “Okay. Do you want to know what I am doing?” They go, “Yes, tell us, please.” He said, “I am just talking the way you guys daven.” Audience: “Why did he do that?” One minute I did not tell you the end of the story. Audience: “Okay so?” So he says, “I am just doing what you guys do. This is the way you daven. Did you understand a word I was saying?” They said, “One minute, one minute. When you have a baby and the baby goes, ‘gagaga’ do you understand what the baby said? Absolutely. So you do not think that G-d understands what we are saying?” He said, “You are right.” And he went back to his study.

But both sides of the equation are true. Audience: “But it could be also that Hashem judges on higher expectance based on where the person is at. I mean I do not think it is reflective.”

No it is not. Exactly. Because the only reason you understand the baby is because of the intimacy with the baby. A stranger goes to the baby. The baby goes, “Gagaga.” Like that.

I remember when Betzalel was born, the night he was in the hospital, so someone else babysat. Someone babysat for Shoshana Batya. So we said, “She eats Cheerios and orange juice and milk in the morning. That is all she wants.” So this woman said to Shoshana Batya in the morning, “Do you want some Cheerios?” “No.”

“Do you want some milk?”


“Do you want orange juice?”


“Do you want something to eat?”

“No.” And she started crying. She said:

“Okay, what do you want? Do you want this?” She went through everything in the house and everything she has. Shoshana Batya said, “No, no, no.” I came home it was nine o’clock in the morning and Shoshana Batya is miserable, she is starving. And I said, “What is the matter? Don’t you want some milk?” She said, “No.” I said, “Oh good.” And I gave her some milk because that is the way she said yes. This person had no way of knowing that when she said, “No” she meant “Yes.” Audience: “That is very cute.” It is also true.

Audience: “Did you say instead of saying Shacharit if you sat there and had a conversation with G-d that would be sufficient for Tefillah?” No, no. It would be one step of Tefillah but you are limiting yourself. The purpose of the siddur is to take your conversation and improve it. And that is why you have got to — You know I am a big fan that the siddur has to be user friendly. All the practical prayer courses were simply how to take the siddur and make it user friendly. You have to have your own siddur and you have to be able to map out in your siddur what the different prayers mean to you. But not because of what the prayers are saying to you but through the things you bring into prayer.

So for example let us say you have an incredibly powerful experience. You achieve something at work that no one thought you could do and you took on everyone else and you accomplished it. You just feel absolutely marvelous. Okay? So it is a wonderful feeling. Now you have a choice of whether that can be a nice memory or whether you can say, “You know, I learned something about myself and I experienced something that I do not want to lose.”

The best place to take that experience is to your siddur. And you find a place in your siddur that is helps you recall that experience. The first few times you have to force it when you say this prayer, remember that story. And then you find after a week or two all of the sudden every time you say that prayer automatically you remember that experience. And what the siddur will do is make that experience a part of your life so you are not creating a relationship with G-d, you are taking something and saying, “You know G-d, that was part of my relationship with you.” And then you are ready for more.

So if it was intelligence it would be an Attah Chonein.

If it was simply inspiration then it would be Bareich Aleinu, a source of berachah.

If it was that you were able to sort something out in your mind and figure it out and come to a great decision then it would be in Hashiva Shoftaynu K’VaRishona.

If it was an epiphany then it would be Teka B’Shofar Gadol L’Charuteinu.

If it was a chance to undo something you had done previously in your life then it would be the berachah of Selichah.

If it was a process of redefining yourself it would be in the berachah of Teshuva.

If you felt that G-d was nurturing you it would be in the second berachah of the Shemoneh Esrei.

If you felt that you were able to articulate yourself in a way you had never articulated before you would do it in the berachah of Shema Kolenu.

And you just take your siddur and you use it and you bring everything into your siddur. So that your siddur becomes an expression of you and your siddur will begin to help you grow. It will nurture you. It will take those conversations with G-d and make them very real and special.

If you feel incredibly loved, Ahavah Raba.

If you feel, let us say, someone really came through for you in a big way and is reliable and trustworthy and there was a feeling of security. So that would be the berachah of Emet V’Yatziv or Emet V’Emunah. Which is G-d’s reliability. That is a gift from G-d when you can sense it. It is rare when you have that sense of reliability.

Choose any berachah when you feel that G-d paid attention to a minor detail. Something that you think was insignificant to the creator of the world. That is the first Halelukah you say after Ashrei.

Now let us say you felt you needed something and G-d responded. That is Ashrei. Poteach Et Yadecha is that the most basic human need is to feel that someone is responsible.

Any human experience you have had, just take it into your siddur.

Keep your own siddur and make notes and you will see you will read the words after recalling the experience and the experience will become part of you, not a nice memory. And then the Tefillah will give you insights into that experience you did not have otherwise.

And when you take those three steps back before you are done with Shemonei Esrei? That is what you do; you choose which berachah you are going to focus on.

Like today I am feeling down, okay so I need to think back to a memory that was really powerful. Okay which memory? Which berachah do I tie that memory into? Fine. You zoom through Shemonei Esrei until you get to that berachah. Audience: “Where do you ask for bakashah in Shemonei Esrei?”

Which bakasha? Audience: “So depending on what you want to ask for is where you put it?” Yes. Shidduch would be in Al Hatzadikim. Because that is bitachon. The tzaddik is the one who has bitachon and values the bitachon for bitachon. It is unbelievable how that happens. And it usually leads to a much healthier relationship.

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