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Thought for the Day: Shmone Esrei Is About Connecting to the Creator

The shmone esrei is divided into three distinct section: three paragraphs of praise (shevach), 13 of requests (bakashos), and a final three or thanks/acknowlegdement (ho'da'ah).  (The observant reader will note that adds up to 19, not 18.)  Each section has its unique character that expresses itself in halachic distinctions.  The shevach and ho'da'ah are inseparable units that must be said correctly from start to finish.  The bakashos need to be said in order, but to correct a mistake in the middle that requires a repetition requires only going back to the bakashah in which the mistake occurred.  One may make additions for personal needs in the bakashos, but no personal additions may be made in the shevach nor ho'da'ah.

There is a very nice distinction that shows up in the change we make between winter and summer that spans both shevach and backashos.  In the winter: "mashiv ha'ru'ach u'morid ha'gashem" in shevach, "v'sein tal u'matar livracha" in the bakashos.  Summertime: "morid ha'tal/" in shevach, "v'sein bracha" in bakashos.  The question is like this: suppose is it summertime, but where you live really, really needs rain.  Not just you personally, but the entire country.  Even in that case, you are not allowed to add "mashiv ha'ru'ach u'morid ha'gashem" in shevach nor "v'sein tal u'matar livracha" in the bakashos; if you add either or both on purpose, you must repeat shmone esrei.  In fact, even you accidentally add "mashiv ha'ru'ach u'morid ha'gashem" in shevach, you must still repeat your shmone esrei; the entire t'fila is rendered useless as far as fulfilling your obligation.  However, if you accidentally said "mashiv ha'ru'ach u'morid ha'gashem"-- even in "bareich alein", and certainly in "shma koleinu" -- then you do not have to repeat.  You have fulfilled your obligation to daven that service.

Why the difference?  It is in no way a praise that rain comes in the summer.  Even if your country needs rain, Eretz Yisrael does not; so rain in the summer is a problem.  On the other hand, if you ask for rain and you really need it locally, it is an inappropriate request, but it's still a valid request.

Let's take that last idea bit further.  First of all, HaShem knows you, your situation, your future, and your needs much, much better than you do, it is really always inappropriate to ask for anything you don't have.  Second, HaShem loves you and only created you and this entire world for you to have fun (see hakdama to M'silas Yesharim if you don't believe me).  So if you don't have something, you don't need it; in fact, you don't really even want it.  It's as ridiculous as someone without cancer asking for chemotherapy or pain meds.

So why ask at all?  Because HaShem wants a relationship with you, and that is something (the only thing, in fact) that you control.  So a request, even a bad request, is still a connection; so you daven properly.  But a bad praise is not a connection at all.  In fact, it's worse because it's trying to connect to the wrong thing.  Hence, you get to daven again.

"Hakol bidai shamayim chutz mi'yiras shamayim" could be translates as, "HaShem runs the show, but you are in charge of deciding whether you want a relationship with your Creator."  Seems like a pretty obvious choice... I wonder why I keep turning away...

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