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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.


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