1) I have said many times that I was not born "with a beard and peyos." (I was not always as frum as I should be.) I still remember some of the TV shows that I watched when I was younger. One of them was "The Adventures of Superman". In one particular episode, there was a fellow who was being blamed for a murder that he did not commit and was sentenced to the electric chair. Superman interviewed the fellow who insisted on his innocence. During the interview Superman felt the fellow's his pulse and with his "supersensitivity" (which operated similar to a lie detector) he saw that the person was calm and telling the truth. He decided to save him so he flew to the Governor to get a reprieve. By the time he came back with it, the fellow was already strapped into the electric chair. Of course Superman manages to break through the door and save the fellow just as the warden was pulling the lever to give electricity. Try to imagine the feeling of that fellow as he was expecting to die and all of a sudden he is given a new lease on life. If you will pardon my pun, I would say, he was "shocked". One thing is sure, if the Governor, who gave him the reprieve, would request that the fellow should come every morning to his office at 7:30, (for the fellow's benefit) he would certainly come on time. This person owes his life to the Governor, and there is nothing he would not do for him.
2) We go through a similar episode every morning. Every night our soul goes up to heaven and is put on trial. We know of course how many sins we do and invariably what the verdict should be. However, Hashem, in His Infinite Mercy, gives us a reprieve. Every morning, He gives us another chance to do teshuvah on what we did till now. You can imagine the Angels complaining, "Give us a break, we gave the guy already a few thousand chances and he still did not do teshuvah." Nevertheless, Hashem gives us another chance and sends us back our soul every morning. That's why the first thing that we say every morning is "Modeh Ani…," we thank Hashem for returning our soul to us even though we didn't deserve it. Imagine now if Hashem asks us to come to his "office" (the Beis Hamedrash) for our benefit, how quickly we should run, we owe Him our life. (see Rashi Sh'mos 22:25)
3) What does Tefillah do? There are many explanations to it. (I will mention a few.)
Rabbi Zeidel Epstein shlit"a in his sefer "Meimrei Shlomo" (which quotes "sichot" delivered in Grodno Yeshivah (the Yeshiva of Rav Shimon Shkop) by his Mashgiach, Rav Shlomo Harkaby) on pages 25-29, explains two major points of Tefillah..
A) The Torah in Brieshis (2:5 and Rashi ibid.) says that the grass was ready to come out from the ground on the third day, but there was no rain because there was no man to realize the necessity of rain. On the sixth day Adam was created and he realized the value of rain. Only after he prayed for the rain, did it come down and make the plants grow.
This teaches us that even if something is ready in Heaven for a person if he a) doesn't see the importance of it which b) would make him realize his obligation to pray for it, then he may not get it.
Tefillah is something that is necessary for a person to obtain what he needs. Surely Hashem knows our needs without our asking, but this is His will and the way He deals with us. He wants us to realize what we need, that we cannot get them in any manner without Him, and to pray to Him for it. (Of course this is all for our benefit so that through this we can get closer to Hashem). Without Tefillah everything is frozen in place even though it is all finished and ready for the person.
I. This is the first point of Tefillah (a negative aspect of Tefillah). Even if a person deserves something and it is all ready for him, he will not get it if he doesn't pray for it.
II. There is also another aspect of Tefillah (a positive one). It is a certain power that enables one to even obtain things that he doesn't deserve otherwise. Things that he would never even think of getting, can be acquired through Tefillah.
Although Hashem had sworn that Moshe wouldn't enter Eretz Yisroel, nevertheless Moshe Rabbainu kept on praying hoping to repeal the decree. The Midrash Rabbo (D'varim 11:6) relates that while Moshe was praying, Hashem told the angels to close the gates of Tefillah, so that Moshe's prayer could not enter. Had the tefilah entered the gates, it could have reversed the decree, despite Hashem's oath.
B) The sefer Sichos Elul (by Rav Chazkel Levenstein zt"l, pg 64-68) writes about another aspect of Tefillah.
Rav Chazkel points out how we are submerged in a society that constantly preaches "kochi v'otzem yadi", (everything we attain is through Our might and Our great intelligence and not through Hashem). This influences us very much. (I saw an article in the "Reader's Digest" about the tremendous ship - the Titanic. The people praised their great might that created such a powerful ship, calling it "unsinkable". It reached the point that one crewman said, "Not even G-D could sink this ship.") Consequently, we need constant reminders that Hashem runs the world. That is what Tefillah and Brachos on food teach us. They are "sichot" on Emunah and Hashgacha. We constantly repeat, "You give us Knowledge..., You Heal us...,". Sh'hakol nihyah bi'dvaro - to believe in simplicity that "all is made only through His words". He concludes, "... likewise all prayer, has one goal, to ingrain the following principle in a person's heart "A person doesn't support himself in any way, all he needs is help from Hashem"."
This will help us counter the constant barrage of "kochi v'otzem yadi" that we are submerged in.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Zt"l in his sefer, "A Call to the Infinite" (p.17) quotes a special Tefillah from the Chovos Halevovos (Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pekuda, Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh 3:18). One of the things mentioned in the Tefillah goes as follows:
"...You know what is best for me and how to provide for me. I do not express my needs to You to make You aware of them, but so that I be made to realize my dependence upon You, reinforcing my trust in You."C) Another aspect of Tefillah is the fact that it is very therapeutic and helps to calm a person's fears. A person has many problems and things to worry about. Some people even have to go to a psychiatrist and spend a lot of money, but it doesn't always help. We, however, only have to go to Hashem, and we don't need any money or appointments. Knowing that you are talking to the One Who is in charge of everything gives us a tremendous peace of mind. ("Country Yossi" has a song called "Speak to Hashem" in which he tells us "Speak to Hashem when life has got you down, and you know if you speak with all your heart, Then Hashem will make your blues depart...")
I remember when my daughter Esthy had a bus accident in the summer of 1986. Her foot was in need of an operation and we didn't know what the outcome would be. It was questionable whether or not she would be able to walk again. I was very scared and nervous, but then I realized that it was almost time for "Ma'ariv". I joined the nearby minyan in Hadassa Ein Kerem. I unburdened myself to Hashem and I cried my worries away. When I finished I realized that before this I had spoken to the physical Doctor, but now I had spoken to the One Who was really in charge. This made me feel so much better. B"H she had a complete recovery.
4) One may think that the power of Tefillah is only for the privileged few who can reach such a high level and get close to Hashem through Tefillah. This is not so. Once our Avos instituted the three Tefillos, (Avraham Avinu established the prayer of Shacharis, Yitzchak Avinu Mincha and Ya'akov Avinu Ma'ariv.) they made the arrangements whereby even simple people in Klal Yisroel can get closer to Hashem through Tefilah. ("Meimrei Shlomo" ibid.).
The "Lev Eliyahu" (B'reishis pg. 105) explains this concept that the Avos established the prayers by comparing it to the telephone. People pick up the receiver, dial and talk to somebody thousands of miles away. They are oblivious to how many man-hours, labor and cables, big and small, go into enabling them to make this call. Tefillah also, we get up every morning and put on our Tallis and Tefillin and pray. We don't realize that our Avos Hakdoshim set up the spiritual cables to transfer our tefillos of all generations straight through the various "Worlds" to the heavenly throne.
To borrow his Moshol of the telephone, I once heard a similar thought from my Rebbi. People complain that they can't daven because they don't know how it works. We can point out to them that when they use the telephone they are also unfamiliar with all the electrical intricacies that go in to making the phone call. This doesn't stop them from dialing. So too with Tefillah, just pray even if you don't know all the mechanics that go into it. If it's a problem of not understanding the meaning of the words then use an English siddur.
5) A common question about tefillah is, "Why do we have to daven so many times, why not once a year"? This is similar to the question that the talmidim of Rav Shimeon bar Yochai asked him. (Yoma 76a)
"Why did the manna come down every day why not once a year"? He answered them with a parable. A King gave his son his yearly allowance in one lump sum at the beginning of the year. This resulted in the prince seeing the King only once a year. The King wished to see his son more often, so he decided to give him a daily allowance, forcing the prince to come by everyday. Likewise with the manna. Bnei Yisroel would worry every day that perhaps there would be no manna on the following day and they would die. This forced them to turn there hearts to Hashem everyday."Similarly, Rabbi Epstein told me that parents who love their children and want to hear from them often will not send them their yearly allowance in one lump sum. If they send it once a month, they are assured of receiving letters monthly. Obviously the intention is not to make it harder for the child, but rather because they love the child and want to hear from him. Only if the parent hates the child would they say, "Just take the money and get out of here, I don't want to see you anymore" Surely the first way is better for the child. Hashem also wants us to get close to Him for our benefit. That is why he gives us the privilege of davening to him every day three times.
When Hashem punished the snake after making Chavah eating from the Eitz Hada'as, he cursed him that all he'll eat from now on is dust (B'reishis 3:15). Many people fail to understand the punishment of eating dust. How bad could it be when the snake has his food available wherever he turns? The Kotzker Rebbe explains that the true punishment is that Hashem was telling the snake "Don't ask me for food, I don't want to see you anymore".
I once asked Rabbi Epstein based on what he said that a person won't get even what he deserves without davening, [as I brought down before from the "Meimrei Shlomo" in 3]. "How come there are people who don't daven and they still get what they need"? He answered me that in reality it is good to be in a situation that Hashem desires our davening and will withhold our needs till we daven so we can get close to him. That shows that He loves us. However, if Hashem doesn't want to hear from someone, he sometimes does like he did to the snake and throws sustenance to the person saying "I don't want to see you anymore". This is obviously not a good situation.
6) Some people may ask, can't we just daven alone? Why do we need to join a minyan? The Chofetz Chaim in his sefer, "Shmiras Halashon" (Chasimas hasefer chp 1) discusses the great obligation of davening with a minyan and lists the tremendous differences between davening with a minyan or without. Among the advantages of a minyan that he brings are the following:
a) Hashem doesn't despise the Tefillah of the tzibbur. Unlike the case when an individual davens. Here Hashem scrutinizes every brocho to see if done with proper Kavana. (The Gemoro in Brochos 6a says, "When is the time that Hashem is more willing to accept our t'filos? When the tzibur (congregation) is davening."There is a awesome story in the sefer "V'imru Amen" about the severe punishment for not answering an Amen on a Brocho.
b) When a person walks to shule (or to do any other mitzvah) he is rewarded for every step he takes.
c) The value of a mitzvah done in a group is worth a lot more than if done by an individual. When davening with a minyan we are doing a lot of Mitzvos in a group such as tefillin, krias shma, z'chiras yetzias mitzrayim, etc.
d) The tremendous reward for answering Amen, Borchu and Amen Y'hei shmei rabbo.. Chazal teach us that one who answers Amen Y'hei shmei rabbo with all of his might, all his sins are forgiven. (If we would realize how much reward we get for all these things, we wouldn't run out of the davening before the last Amen Borchu, or Kaddish. Furthermore, if we happen to wake up late and miss the beginning of "Shacharis", we would still try to grab in whatever we can at the end of Shacharis.)
"Rav Mordechai Yaffo (the "Levush") went to learn by a great sefardic scholar named Rabbi Abohav. One day Rabbi Abohav's son made a brocho and everyone answered Amen except Rabbi Yaffo. Rabbi Abohav was so angry at him that he excommunicated him. After 30 days Rabbi Yaffo asked forgiveness which was granted. Rabbi Abohav then told him a story depicting the severe punishment for not answering Amen, and that that is why he excommunicated him to save him from a harsher punishment.If this is the punishment for not answering Amen, we can imagine how much reward is in store for those who answer Amen.
"Before the expulsions in Spain of 1492 there were holy Jewish communities there. The King attempted to expel them many times, but there was one pious Jew whom the King liked very much and he would always save the Jews from expulsion. After one such edict the Jews came to the king's friend begging him to intervene on their behalf. He agreed to go to the King, but wished to daven Mincha first. They persuaded him to go immediately, since it was a matter of life or death. The King was very happy to see him, and they started conversing about the decree. Meanwhile a priest came in and started to bless the King with some long Latin blessing. The Jew who had not yet davened Mincha withdrew to a corner and started davening, hoping that he would finish davening before the priest would conclude his blessing, thus his absence would go unnoticed. The priest however concluded his blessing while the Jew was still davening Mincha, and called upon everyone present to answer "Amen" on his blessing. The priest than asked if the Jew also answered Amen. When he was told that the Jew didn't answer Amen, he flew into rage. He started ripping his hair out, and screaming that now his blessing will not be fulfilled because the Jew didn't answer Amen. When the King heard this he also got furious and ordered that the Jew should be cut up into pieces and be sent home. He then expelled all the Jews from his kingdom. A close friend of the dead Jew fasted to be allowed to know what sin this pious Jew had committed to deserve such a cruel death. The dead Jew appeared to his friend and explained to him that once he neglected to answer Amen to his child's blessing. Until this incident the Heavenly Court didn't prosecute him. When this priest got angry over his lack of saying Amen., the Heavenly Court prosecuted him and sentenced him to die such a horrible death". "Rabbi Abohav concluded "I will forgive you on the condition that you publicize this story and warn everyone to be careful and always answer 'Amen'.""
7) Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Zt"l in his book "A Call to the Infinite" writes about many aspects of Tefillah with a minyan (pp. 90-91). He quotes the Midrash Eicha Rabbah (3:8):
Rabbi Acha said, "What does one who pray with a congregation resemble?He also quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi Berachoth(5:1):
A number of people made a crown for the King. A poor man comes along and places his portion in it. The King says, "Just because of the poor man, shall I not accept the crown?" The King accepts it, and when he places the crown on his head, the poor man's portion is included.
Likewise, if there are ten righteous men worshipping, and a wicked person stands among them, G-D says, "Just because of this sinner, should I not accept their worship?"
Rabbi Yochanan said, "When one worships at home, it is as if he is surrounded with walls of iron."8) Rav Ephraim Oshry in his book "Responsa from the Holocaust", brings an interesting question about, risking one's life to study Torah or to pray. In part he says as follows:
The accursed evildoers, plotting treachery after treachery, were aware that this well of hope and comfort inside the synagogues gave Jews courage and strength to stand up to their tribulations. It was no surprise when the Germans issued a decree forbidding public prayer and Torah study under the punishment of death.9) Rabbi Moshe Prager in his book "Sparks of Glory" (p.32-36) has a moving story called "A Secret Prayer in the Basement".
Reb Naftoli Weintraub, the gabbai of the Gapinovitch Shul - may G-d avenge him - asked me whether Torah law obligated him to risk his life to pray with his daily minyan and compelled him to risk his life for Torah study?
Response: I did not have the heart to rule that every Jew should risk his life in order to study Torah or pray with a minyan. There were few with the purity of thought that could raise them to the level of a Daniel and his comrades, Chananya, Mishoel, and Azarya, who risked their lives to sanctify G-d, even though they were not bound to.
On the other hand, how could I forbid anyone to risk his life? All Jews possess holy souls that originate at the highest level Above, and according to the Halacha, each individual must probe the degree of his personal love and awe of G-d to determine his level of service to G-d and his consequent right or duty to make sacrifices. Beyond any doubt the Master of Justice and mercy guides each person to act with sensitivity.
In fact, the sacred sons of the living G-d acted as they had always done. They continued to study Torah and to pray with their fellow-Jews.
Even on Rosh Hashanah of 5703 - September l2 and l3, 1942 the Jews did not fear that the Germans would hear the powerful blasts of their shofar during prayer. Not only did the Jews gather in the many houses of prayer set up for the holiday, but in the ghetto hospital the assimilationist doctors themselves defied the German decree and risked their lives in order to pray publicly.
"A young little child named Shmulik, had endured many a beating from the Germans while trying to get food for Shabbos. He wanted to join his father who risked his life to pray in the secret basement, but his Father, not wanting to risk the safety of everybody there, refused to let him come.How cheap we should feel, when we see how these Jews were ready to give up their lives for a Minyan, and we aren't even ready to give up a little sleep for Minyan. We should feel even worse if we actually do get out of bed, but only for our personal needs. What Chutzpah this is, that we make an effort for ourselves but not to go to daven.
"As the congregation was praying they heard a knock which was not the special agreed secret knock. They opened the door with trepidation and expected to find the Germans, but all they saw was little Shmulik knocking at the gates of prayer. At this his Father came and with tremendous anger screamed, "Such Chutzpah Shmulik, Who are you to disobey orders?" and gave him a painful humiliating slap. Shmulik cried out and said, "Will you beat me too?! Haven't I had my share of blows. I, too, am a Jew. I, too, want to pray"."
10) I will end off with a beautiful vort that my Rebbi said over in the name of Rav Stulman who said this over to Rav Aharon Kotler Zt"l, and he said that it was the right 'pshat' in the Posuk.
Shlomo Hamelech talks about the lazy man who has all kinds of excuses why he can't do a mitzvah. He says in Mishlei (22:13):
"The lazy man says that there is a lion outside in the streets I will be killed."Now, the question is, if there really is a lion, then he's not to be blamed. What do you expect him to do? If there is no lion, then why is he called 'a lazy man', he should be called 'a liar'?
The answer is, that there really is a lion, but this person is nevertheless a lazy man. If this person had something important or exciting that he really wanted to do, he wouldn't stay indoors. He would try to find a way to get around the lion, perhaps get a gun or find a different route. Only when it comes to doing a mitzvah does this person use the lion as an excuse, hence he is labeled a 'lazy man'.
The same thing can be applied to davening with a Minyan. Many people say the main problem is that they can't get up so early in the morning to make Minyan, but this is mere laziness. When it comes to making money they are the first ones up. When it comes to something that they are interested in, then they know how to get up. They figure out all kinds of ideas to wake up early in the morning. As my Rebbi said that the problem is not getting up on time in the morning, rather, it's going to sleep on time. If we go to sleep on time, then we would wake up on time.
May Hashem accept all our T'filos l'tovah. Amen.
List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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