Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 7
November 14, 2005
Mitzvah #7: To Pray to G-d
It is a positive commandment to pray every day to G-d.
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states, “and to serve Him with all your heart.” (Deut. 11:13) What is service of the heart? – Prayer. The commandment is that a person should relate the praises of the Holy One after that he should ask for his needs and after that, he is to give praise and thanks to G-d. It is necessary to pray with the focused attention of the heart; one should turn his heart away from every thought, and she should see himself as though standing before the presence of G-d. He should not produce his prayer like someone who id carrying a burden and throws it down and goes his way. Neither should he pray with a troubled and disturbed mind. It is in force everywhere and at every time, for both men and women.
According to the Hafetz Hayyim, and many other sages, there are three reasons to pray. The first is to accept G-d as the ruler of the universe as well as the sovereign of our life. The second is to be able to ask G-d for that which we need. The third reason is to thank G-d for the many blessings we receive from the Divine hand daily. The three daily prayer services, Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv (Morning, Afternoon and Evening) all contain elements of all three. The Shema is our accepting the sovereignty of G-d, the Amidah is our list of petitions and every blessing we recite is a way of saying thanks for all that G-d does in our life.
Every Sage is also crystal clear that our prayer should not be rote, meaningless or mindless. We need to think about what we are saying and why we are saying it. Prayer is not a burden that we have to bear and we perform grudgingly or when we are distracted. We need to be fully alert to our need to pray, to the words that we pray and to the way in which we say those words. We should consider ourselves as standing face to face with the all-powerful ruler of the universe. That ruler wants to hear from us and we need to speak to G-d. But we cannot be distracted even a little bit lest we show ourselves to be ungrateful and unconcerned. Extending this even further, some sages maintain that EVERY word we speak, even our discussions with our spouse and children, are also words of prayer and we should every moment “Know before Whom we stand” This is not “Big Brother” watching us, nor is it meant to make us guilty or paranoid. It only means that we should consider every moment as if we are standing before G-d and to live our lives accordingly. All that we do is thus a “prayer” to G-d.
This does not mean that we cannot be angry, hurt or disappointed with G-d. We are expected to open our hearts to G-d and pour the pain in our soul into the conversation. Just as we eat when we are hungry, we pray when we are angry, hurt or disappointed. We can yell at G-d if we feel the need to yell. And if life is frustrating or disappointing we can vent our frustration or disappointment to G-d. G-d has big shoulders and can handle our “complaints”
We must also be very careful to thank G-d for the blessings of life, love and health that rain down upon us at every moment. We cannot take such blessings for granted and we must not take G-d for granted in our life. Gratitude is one of the highest forms of prayer and it is suggested that we recite 100 blessings a day. Since each blessing is a way of thanking G-d, it implies that we have no less than 100 reasons to thank G-d daily.
I do not know what G-d gets from our prayers, but I know for certain that prayer can change the way we see our lives and the way we live each day. Don’t say, “I will pray when I have time.” Rather pray first and all the other parts of our life will reap the benefits.
Next week: Mitzvot 8 and 9: To Wear Tephillin
Brenda Horowitz asks: (Concerning Mitzvah 6, emulating G-d) How does this idea mesh with the story of Zusya: “G-d will not ask why I was not as great as Moshe; He will ask why I was not as great as Zusya!” That is, does G-d judge us by how closely we can emulate Him, or by how much we live up to our own potential? (Or are those two things the same?)I reply: The two are really the same. The Sages are quick to point out that one cannot fully replicate all that G-d does in the world. G-d is, after all G-d, and we are only human. We can, at best, only emulate G-d when G-d is “emulating” human beings. If it is good enough for G-d to take the time to do, we should be doing it too. But this implies that we can only do this to the best of our abilities. If we are sick, we may not be able to visit others who are sick. If we are disabled, we may not be able to help bury the dead. G-d will not hold us to account for the things we were not able to do, only for the things we COULD do but did not.