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By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky | Series: | Level:

According to the opinion of Rabbanan, if the words of the prayer are not said in a language of beseeching, that itself renders the prayer lacking in the quality of being an appeal. Even the word choice used in prayer can render it as a fixed activity, rather than an activity which is an appeal to G-d. The activity of beseeching G-d is done by throwing oneself before G-d and praying for one’s needs the way a slave would do before his owner. This act of subordination cannot be done simply with thoughts, but also requires some tangible activity. Prayer, verbally requesting one’s needs, is an action. And an ACT of subordination demonstrates a much deeper level of dependence than simple thought. Because there is such a great difference between one who ACTS in a way that indicates dependency and subordination compared to one who only maintains a mental vision of such a relationship, prayer must be done with words of beseeching, with the fundamental nature of prayer being verbal.

(The Maharal has introduced an explanation of an issue that troubles many people. Why do I need to SAY WORDS of prayer? WHY isn’t it enough to ask G-d in my heart for what I need?

(Last week we introduced the positive nature of “dependence” and its potential for creating a close relationship. While the “Declaration of Independence” is viewed as a high point in modern western history (at least American history — not sure what our British colleagues think about it 🙂 ) the Maharal is introducing us to what can be termed a “Declaration of DEPENDENCE.” We want to make that “declaration of dependence,” and simply thinking that we are dependent on G-d has a limited effect compared to our verbalizing it.)

According to Rabbah and Rav Yosef, [in addition to verbalizing the prayer] one must introduce a new request in the prayer. Repeating the same words every day turns the prayer into a “fixed activity.”

In my opinion (this is the Maharal speaking) those who read the prayers from a siddur (prayer book) turn their prayers very much into a “fixed activity, compared with those who pray by heart, which is more like an appeal to G-d. The only problem is that nowadays (16th century!) our concentration and intent during prayer is limited, and without a siddur it would be even worse, so praying from a siddur is preferable.

(The issue raised here by the Maharal has Halachic implications, as well as being very individual, and a competent Halachic authority should be personally consulted if there are practical questions about your standard practice.)

According to Abaye and Rebbe Chaninah [the prayer of one who doesn’t pray] with the glimmer of sunrise [is considered a fixed activity], for he doesn’t pray at the primary time, which is considered the best way to perform the Mitzvah. One who prays earlier than the best time indicates his desire to relieve himself of the burden of prayer (“let’s get it over with”) making it an even more serious form of being a “fixed activity.”

(Halachically, the ideal time for the morning prayers is to recite Kriyath Shma a few minutes before sunrise, and begin the Shmoneh Esrei exactly with sunrise. This is what is known as “k’vathikin,” or to “daven with hei’neitz hachamah.” The latest time for saying Kriyath Shma is before one quarter of the day has passed. The latest time for saying Shmoneh Esrei is before one third of the day has passed. Praying Shmoneh Esrei earlier than sunrise is considered “b’dieved,” only to be done when there is no choice. The Maharal is explaining that one who prays before sunrise when other options are available is probably doing it because praying later is inconvenient — indicating that prayer is a burden to him.)

Because one of the intentions of Rebbe Shimon (the author of this Mishna) was to teach about prayer, he taught us the true nature of prayer, which is that it should be in the form of an appeal and beseeching G-d.

He then taught “And don’t be a ‘rasha’ (an evildoer) before yourself.” Normally, evildoing refers to your behavior in relation to others, as we see demonstrated many times in Tanach (see Shemoth 2:13; Tehillim 10:15) in verses which refer to evil activities done by the “rasha” to others. Righteousness is balanced and a “tzadik” (righteous person) doesn’t depart from “tzedek”(doing what is right) and balance. Evil behaviour is a departure from balance and propriety. When his evil behaviour is directed towards others, this is a complete departure from balance and equilibrium, and is considered the ultimate form of evildoing, since it is identifiable by others observing his behaviour. This is person is definitely considered a “rasha.”

(The theme of balance and orderly behaviour as a fundamental value — not simply an effective way to live your life — is one that repeats itself often in the Maharal.)

(The Maharal now brings in a section of the Gemara, Megillah 17b, which teaches that the ninth blessing of the weekday section of the Shmoneh Esrei, the prayer against wicked people, refers to those who artificially inflate prices. The connection, teaches the Maharal, is that artificially inflating prices (through cornering the market, monopoly practices, etc.) is a departure from the systematic order by which the world is supposed to function. The title “rasha,” an evil person, is attributed to all who cause a digression from this orderly functioning. And the tzadik stands in direct opposition to the rasha. One works towards the orderly and balanced functioning of the world, while the other undermines that balance and order.)

Even if a persons evil doing doesn’t affect others, so he isn’t considered a complete “rasha,” he is considered a “rasha” if his actions undermine his own orderly and balanced functioning. This is the intention of Rebbe Shimon in warning that one shouldn’t be a “rasha” before oneself. The destructive nature of evil is so great, that even the limited impact of departing from orderly behaviour that only affects the individual is significant, and care must be taken to avoid it.

What is the connection with the first part of the Mishna? Prayer is service of G-d, in place of sacrifices (in the Temple). And it is written (Mishlei Ch. 21) “The sacrifices of evil people is an abomination (for G-d), and the prayers of the righteous is His will.” So we see that for the sacrifices and prayer to be done properly and according to the will of G-d, one must take care against being a “rasha.” The lesson of not being a rasha before yourself is appropriate here, since, even if others don’t know about your evil actions, G-d does, and it impacts on the efficacy of your prayers.

So the three lessons taught by Rebbe Shimon are all linked, to perfect man who was created to serve G-d, which is done through prayer.

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The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, YeshivatDarche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.