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Thought for the Day: Appreciating and Improving Davening

My poor Mom.  I once wanted to try the "rat in a maze experiment", so Mom dutifully took me to the pet store to by a rat.  The owner sold us a nice fat male... who had about eight babies a few days after we brought "him" home.  Either he couldn't tell or he also didn't want a whole new litter of rat babies.  (Over the years my opinion has shifted from the former to the latter.)  By that as it may/was, I built a maze with a friend (whose mother, by the way, did not buy him a rat).  We ran the rat through the maze several times, timing each run, and the rat did exhibit learning behavior.  Of course, the rat does not run through the maze for no reason; you need to provide a reward for correctly solving the maze as an incentive.  No reward, no learning.

We are not, of course, rats; but this is certainly is a lesson for all.  If you want to encourage behavior, you need to provide a reward as an incentive.  We do that all the time with our children, of course.  Moreover, the modern (I love how that word gets applied to anything they didn't do yesterday, even though it was all the rage the day before yesterday) approach to dieting, exercise, stress management, etc, is to give yourself rewards.  Seems simple enough.

So I wondered why it seems like HaShem didn't know that with regard to davening.  I mean, I am sure I would daven a lot better if I saw results sometimes.  I don't mean, "it's doing amazing things for your neshama" or "every prayer is put away for when it is really needed."  That's great; but, I mean, throw me a bone.  Here I am, spending a lot of my precious time doing stuff for Him; including davening.  I mean, here I am taking time out of my schedule -- we are talking at least an hour every single week day and more on Shabbos -- to pray.  I need at least one tangible result; I think I deserve that after all I do for Him.

Then I realized... right near the end of davening, in the "elokai n'tzor" section.  A t'fila that is, in fact, answered every single day.  It starts off, "My G-d, protect my tongue from evil" (ok... I need to participate in that one) "and my lips from speaking deceitfully" (yeah, yeah, I know, I need to help with that one also) "to all who curse me let me remain silent" (I'm trying....) "and may I be considered as [unimportant as] dust to others."  Hang on!  I actually get that t'fila answered all the time!  That's pretty cool!  Seems HaShem was right all along; it was just me missing the point.

So here's my plan.  First, start really appreciating that every insult or slight is actually something I've been praying for and to appreciate it as such.  Second, start taking advantage of the help I am already praying for to keep my mouth shut against those insults, to not speak deceitfully, and to guard my tongue from speaking evil.  Maybe once I accustom myself to appreciating how HaShem is answering those prayers all the time, I'll start appreciating how all my prayers are actually being answered for my benefit all the time.

Seems like a long road.  Baby steps... and just keep moving.


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