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Thought for the Day: Sh'ma and T'fila, Emuna and Bitachon

My wife and I are learning Pirkei Avos l'zecher nishmas her brother, Yaakov Yosef ben Aaron Dovid, a"h.  Learning with my wife is always interesting.  She simply learns the mishna for what it says without a lot of preconceived notions, so I am pressed hard to explain properly without skirting over things.  (Yes; pun intended.)  Case in point: R' Shimon says, "Be careful to say sh'ma and to daven.  And when you daven ensure that it is not simply out of habit, but is a plea for mercy before the Creator."  (Avos 2:13) Heavy stuff.

Two immediate questions: why put these two mitzvos together?  On the surface they are only tangentially related.  Sh'ma is the mission statement of Klal Yisrael.  Prayer is a request for stuff.  When I go to my boss for something at work, I have never started with a declaration of the company's mission.  That declaration is usually reserved for motivational posters and company wide meetings; not really the time to ask for anything.  Moreover, the mishna goes on and on about how to pray, while sh'ma (the d'oraiso!) is left with "oh, yeah... don't forget k'ri'as sh'ma."

To answer, we need to start with a simple question: Why pray?  I tell a doctor what hurts because he doesn't know how I am feeling otherwise.  Without that knowledge, he can't prescribe the right medicine.  If he can discover what ails me by other means (a blood test, for example), then he can prescribe and I don't need to whine.  That is what the mishna is telling us: if you pray out of habit, just listing what you need; you are just whining, not praying.  To be prayer it has to be said as a plea for mercy from the One and Only who can provide those things.  T'fila is not telling HaShem what is wrong; it is acknowledging that HaShem -- and only HaShem -- can provide for you.

The mishna now read beautifully: be careful to both declare your belief that HaShem -- and only HaShem -- runs the world (Sh'ma!) and also to "walk the talk" -- live your faith and trust that HaShem -- and only HaShem -- can provide what you need on all levels to live.

Of course, it can be frustrating learning with my wife also.  She sometimes just doesn't get things.  After we discussed the mishna and came to this clarity, she asked, "So how can you have a matzah minyan?  According to the mishna, if you are rushing through davening it's not really prayer.'  Yeah... ahem... well...


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