Reciting by Rote
Imagine someone speaking, let’s say, before a joint session of the US Congress. Since he speaks in monotones, it becomes clear that he is merely reciting a prepared text without thinking about what he is saying. Surely this makes a very poor impression on the audience. [Such an incident comes to mind from several decades ago. One of the nominees for president caused a commotion — he said something extremely foolish and insensitive. His response? He was merely reading a screen and misread what was written there. In other words, he wasn’t thinking about what he was saying!]
Do we want to be like this? Reciting a prepared text without any idea of what we are saying? It doesn’t make a good impression…
The Power of Prayer
In Parshas Shmos, Ramban says two fundamental ideas about tefilla. 1. Klal Yisrael merited to leave Mitzrayim because they cried to Hashem in prayer, as it says, “Hashem heard their moaning, and He remembered His covenant…” (Sh’mos 2:24) 2. Moshe Rebbenu was not healed from his speech impediment because he never asked Hashem to be healed!
Paroh and Prayer
In Parshas Va’eira, the power of tefilla is demonstrated various times.
Paroh summoned Moshe and Aharon, and said, “Beseech Hashem that He remove the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let out the people so that they may sacrifice to Hashem.”
Moshe said to Paroh, “…When shall I entreat for you, for your servants, and for your people, to remove the frogs from you and from your houses, that they should remain only in the Nile?” Paroh said, “For tomorrow.” Moshe said, “As you say, in order that you should know that there is none like Hashem. The frogs will depart from you and from your houses and from your servants and from your people; only in the Nile will they remain.”
Moshe and Aharon went away from Paroh, and Moshe cried out to Hashem concerning the frogs that He had brought upon Paroh.
Hashem did according to Moshe’s word, and the frogs from the houses, from the courtyards, and from the fields all died.
Paroh said, “I will let you go, and you will sacrifice to Hashem — in the desert — but don’t go far away; pray to Him on my behalf.”
Moshe said, “I am going away from you, and I will beseech Hashem, and the wild animals will depart from Paroh, from his servants, and from his people tomorrow. Only Paroh should not trick us anymore, by not letting the people go to sacrifice to Hashem.” Moshe went away from Paroh and entreated Hashem. And Hashem did according to Moshe’s word, and He removed the wild animals from Paroh, from his servants, and from his people; not one was left.
“Beseech Hashem, and let it be enough of His thunder and hail, and I’ll let you go, and you won’t have to continue to wait.”
Moshe said to him, “When I leave the city, I will spread my hands to Hashem. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, in order that you know that the earth is Hashem’s.” Moshe went away from Paroh — out of the city, and he spread out his hands to Hashem, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and rain did not come down to earth.
As we see, one of the many lessons of the makos is that tefilla really accomplishes.
In shemona esreh we say, “Baruch Atah Hashem, Shome’ah Tefilla (Who Hears Prayers).” In Ashrei, as well, we say daily, “He hears their cry and saves them.”
We have discussed previously that the purpose of tefilla is not to accomplish; nonetheless, it does indeed accomplish. We are not always answered right away, or in the way we want to be answered; but every tefilla is heard.
Prayer with Heart
The daily davening is very profound. Unfortunately, our approach to the davening is often shallow. In truth, we should take a good look at the siddur — study it with commentaries and translation, take notes.
If people realized what they’re saying in the davening, life could be much different than it is now… For example, every morning we say, “as long as the soul is within me, I thank You, Hashem…” Indeed? As long as the soul is within us, we thank Hashem? Again, in shemona esreh, “For all of this, may Your Name be blessed, exalted and praised, our King, constantly forever and ever.” In Ashrei, we say, “I will bless Your Name forever and ever,” and “I will praise Your Name forever and ever.” If we realized what we commit ourselves to, we wouldn’t be able to complain…