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: 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…