Skip to main content

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...


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…