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11 Elul 5765 - September 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Teshuvoh and Prayer

by HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt"l

Part II

In the first part of the power of prayer and its application to teshuvoh, HaRav Schwadron cited numerous applications in which we see the tremendous power of tefilloh. The Rambam explains that one who sins very much may reach a point at which a Heavenly decree will not allow him to repent, so that he will die with his sin. However even this decree, says the Rambam is subject to repeal through the power of prayer, since it is no stronger than any other decree which can be modified or annulled through prayer. An historical example of this was the incident involving Eliyohu on Mount Carmel, where the people repented after Eliyohu prayed for them to repent. R' Sholom explains that the people were really beyond the stage at which they normally could repent, which is evident since there were previous occurrences that should have made them repent. Yet they did repent after the prayer of Eliyohu. Also, R' Sholom brings a medrash that says clearly that whether a person prays wholeheartedly can make the difference between life and death for him.

Kavonoh Required for Tefilloh

"In Givon, Hashem appeared to Shlomo in a dream by night; and Hashem said, `Ask what I shall give you.' And Shlomo said, `. . . give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to judge Your great people?' And the speech pleased Hashem, that Shlomo had asked this thing. And Hashem said to him, `Because you have asked this thing . . . behold, I have done according to your word . . . I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches and honor . . .' (Melochim I, chapter 3)."

We have to understand why Hashem was so pleased with Shlomo for asking only to be given an understanding heart to judge the people that because of his request he was also rewarded with riches, honor and long life, as outlined in the pesukim. Would we have acted any differently?

Would a person who has been invited by the king into his storehouse and treasury and told to take whatever he wants, leave all the silver and gold there, and look for stones and dust?

Le'aniyus da'ati, I think that if we would stop a person on a weekday and ask him what is the main thing that he wants, he would certainly reply that the main thing he wants is Torah and yiras Shomayim. But is this really his sole desire? Is this enough for him? Or does he, in addition to Torah and yiras Shomayim, also want money . . . and honor . . . and a long life . . . and all other Olom Hazeh-related matters?

Even if a person does not say this, everything is revealed to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, and if his heart contains even the slightest longing for wealth or something else, it is considered as if he had "asked for riches," because the innermost desire cries out, "I want! I want!"

Shlomo Hamelech on the other hand, in replying to Hashem that he wants only an "understanding heart," had no craving for anything related to Olom Hazeh, such as riches, honor, long life or victory over his enemies. His only wish was for an "understanding heart" — nothing more! This indeed signified that he had attained a wonderful spiritual level!

This should convey to us an awe-inspiring message. When we stand and beseech the Creator of the world for ruchniyus, and our prayers remain unanswered, we develop a grievance: Why were we not answered? Didn't we ask for it? Didn't we ask for our hearts to be filled with "discernment to understand and become wise"? Why, then, doesn't Hashem give it to us?

However, if we were to be honest with ourselves, we would realize that while we may be shouting, "Let our hearts be filled with discernment," the inner recesses of our heart are shouting, "Give us silver and gold!" And it is this inner cry which is heard so well in Shomayim!

What is our real intention in our prayers and requests?

A simple baal habayis once went to the Kotsker Rebbe to ask his advice whether his daughter should undergo an operation. The Rebbe told him that he did not think it was worthwhile. The visitor was not deterred, and started to tell the Rebbe that his daughter was smart, and she thought it would be good for her to have this operation, and what should he do? The Rebbe replied that this was of no consequence.

Again, the visitor argued that his daughter, in addition to her wisdom, also had some medical knowledge . . . the Rebbe gave the same reply.

This interchange went on for a while, the visitor insisting that he was right and the Rebbe giving the same response. Eventually, the visitor realized that the Rebbe was not to be moved from his initial opinion, and was about to leave. The Rebbe asked him, "Nu . . . will you take my advice?"

The visitor replied, "I will see. I'll have to think about it." That was how they parted.

The Rebbetzin, who had overheard the whole conversation, was amazed. She went into the room and said to the Rebbe, "Your chassidim are great people who come from faraway places just to receive your greeting. They wait for several hours and even then only get to see you for a few moments. Yet here, you had a lengthy conversation with a simple baalabos, consisting of pointless arguments! Why?"

The Rebbe answered her, "Why are you surprised? After all, everything this man said is true. He has a sick daughter — that's true. He thinks that she has to be operated on — that's also true. He has a smart daughter — he thinks that to be true and therefore he argued with me. Why should I be upset with someone who speaks only the truth?

"The chassidim that come to see me, on the other hand, want me to believe that their only request is for yiras Shomayim — whereas the truth is that they want money, health and parnossoh . . . that is why a few moments are sufficient for them."

In Shomayim Only Words of Truth are Heard

This incident can help us understand why our prayers remain unanswered. In the tefilloh for the Yomim Noraim we say, "For You are a G-d of truth, and Your words are truth." In other words, in Heaven only words of truth are heard.

Let us picture a man standing in prayer, knowing that he has nothing to go home to, that he has nothing to feed himself with, or that he is suffering from something choliloh. He wraps himself up in his tallis, lowers his head to the ground, and davens with great kavonoh, tears streaming down his face. Nu . . . for such a person, everything revolves around money! Ato kodosh — money, Tein Pachdecho — money, Vesimloch — money, money and more money! Is this truth? Small wonder then that in the end he gets no money either.

How appropriate in this context is the incident of the chossid who came with a complaint to the Ruzhiner zt"l. It is written, he said, that it is a seguloh for wealth to pray for parnossoh during kedushoh of the Yomim Noraim, and yet he has done this for several years, to no avail . . . he was still as poor as ever.

The Rebbe answered him, "This is a genuine seguloh. But it is only effective for someone who only thinks about parnossoh during kedushoh, but not during the remainder of the tefilloh. With you, however, the whole tefilloh revolves around money and more money!"

Neglect of Tefilloh

It says in the gemora (Brochos 6b), "One of the scholars said to Rav Bibi bar Abaye (some say Rav Bibi said to Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok), What is the meaning of, `When vileness is exalted among the sons of men' (Tehillim 12:9)? He replied to him, `These are the things of supreme importance which nevertheless people neglect.' On "things of supreme importance" Rashi says, "For example, prayer, which rises above."

In what sense do people neglect prayer?

The Dubner Maggid's explanation of the posuk, "Take with you words, and return unto Hashem" (Hoshea 14:3) sheds light on this gemora. He points out that when we pray, we stand swaying to and fro, with our eyes closed, asking with great kavonoh, "Give our hearts discernment to understand and become wise etc." (the brochoh of Ahavoh Rabboh) and we really mean this with all our hearts, as we say it. However, as soon as we leave shul, we immediately forget everything.

This is what the novi is referring to: "Take with you words!" Those same words you uttered just a moment ago — take them with you during the day, and put them into practice!

Is this not showing contempt for tefilloh? Each time we pray, we spend a good hour asking Hashem for wisdom and discernment, swaying so hard that our level of deveikus transports us to the seventh heaven, and we almost become angelic.

After davening, we go to eat. How do we eat? What is our bentching like? All at once, we are transferred from Heaven straight to the fleshpot!

We end up taking things of supreme importance, making awesome requests, and instead of taking the things with us and making use of what we asked for, we immediately revert to our fleshpots.

To Whom Do We Address Our Prayers?

Chazal say, "When Rabbi Akiva read Shir Hashirim, there would be tears streaming down his face, because he knew who these words were addressed to." What does that last phrase mean?

If somebody sends a telegram or letter to a king, he knows that his message will reach the palace and maybe even the king himself. He will surely choose every word he uses very carefully, knowing who will be the recipient . . . the king!

So too, Rabbi Akiva, when reading Shir Hashirim, had internalized completely who was the recipient of his words: Melech Malchei Hamelochim HaKodosh Boruch Hu. That is why he had tears streaming down his face.

During every tefilloh we talk to the King of kings, especially on Rosh Hashonoh, the special day on which we coronate the King. The peak is reached during Musaf, when we recite the pesukim of Malchuyos, about which the gemora in Rosh Hashonoh (34b) says, "Hashem proclaimed, `Recite before Me Malchuyos [pesukim], to declare Me King over you.' " In other words, we are not making Hashem sovereign over ourselves, as is the case in Krias Shema when we accept on ourselves ol malchus Shomayim. Rather we are crowning the King in His presence, as it says, "Recite before Me Malchuyos."

How much more so must we pay careful attention to every word that we utter during the prayer before the King on the day of His coronation, at a time of "recite before Me."

Unto You Does All flesh Come

In the Selichos we say, "Oh You, Who hears prayer, unto you does all flesh come."

I heard the following explanation of this posuk from adoni mori verabi HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman zt"l. When we get up early to go to selichos, it would be the proper thing for us to leave our bodies at home and come to shul with only our souls, full of feeling.

In reality, however, some people do the opposite. They leave their soul asleep at home, taking only a lump of flesh with them to shul: "Unto you does all flesh come!"

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