Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: The Purpose of Praise in Prayer

The formula for prayer is: shevach, bakasha, hoda'a; praise, requests, expression of gratitude.  Seems simple enough, no?  The Mabit begs to differ.

First of all, buttering someone up before you ask for a favor is not really the more refined of behaviors.  Usually praising someone before asking them to do something for you or give you something is because the request does not have enough merit on its own.  "Look... we've been friends for a long time and you are such a generous person and I know how passionate you are about this and your enthusiasm for helping is legendary and .... and... "  Sounds like a teenager asking for the car keys (guaranteed that request has no merits on its own).

Second, notes the Mabit, Chazal tell us that the thanks are to be said as one who has just received his reward.  Yet, when we start "r'tzei" we are still without the mashiach, yerushalayim, ingathering of the exiles, etc etc.  Many of us are and have davened for cholim who are either still sick or did not recover.  How is it possible, then, to give thanks as one who has already received his reward?

So let's back up.  Why is the supplicant buttering up his benefactor?  The supplicant is actually, in a sense, paying for the gift. Supplicant supplies ego boost, benefactor responds with gift; even exchange.  The system works because the benefactor doesn't really have all those qualities for which the supplicant is praising him.  The more self-doubts the benefactor has, the more he values praise, the more he is willing to pay out to receive said praise.

Suppose, instead, that the supplicant needed a delicate surgery that only one doctor in the world could perform?  Moreover, this one surgeon is independently wealthy and only works on cases for which there is no other qualified surgeon.  Now the supplicant will first need to explain to the doctor that he understands the qualities of the doctor.  It may sound like praise from the outside, but it is really an acknowledgement of the reasons that the supplicant has no other options but to come to this doctor.  Then the supplicant will need to explain precisely the issues afflicting him.  It may sound like requests, but it is really just explaining his condition to the doctor well enough that a precise diagnosis can be made and treatment prepared.

The nimshal is clear.  The praise section of t'fila is not "buttering up"; it is demonstrating that we know before whom we are standing.  The request section is not asking for things, but a further acknowledgement that we know that for all these things, we have no where to turn but to HaShem Himself; not a human benefactor, not a malacha, only HaShem Himself.

What about the thanks section, that is supposed to be said as one who has just received his reward?  The greatest reward of all, the point of existence is to know and believe that we are totally reliant on HaShem.  Each and every t'fila is a further dismantling of our ego, a further distancing from the traps of the yeitzer hara.  There is no greater gift than that.


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: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…