Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Prayer Works (continued)

This is a continuation of yesterday's post.  If you haven't done so, please read yesterday's post before you continue here.

Our prayer service is designed with perfection and covers all our needs. It has been handed down for thousands of years as a proven way to achieve everything we need and want. Although there are books written about the ways to maximize your effectiveness during prayer, there are certain suggestions that I have that will help greatly. The topics that I would like to mention are areas that are very misunderstood and even perpetuated as bad habits that many observant Jews do unknowingly. Changing a bad habit is extremely difficult, especially if one is not even aware of how detrimental that behavior is. But for the newly observant Jew who is just getting started, developing good habits from the beginning is extremely important and will serve one well.

To begin: prayer should be in the proper order from beginning to end without skipping. People who come late and/or leave early lose a lot of potential in their prayers. Why?

The Midrash Tanchuma says that there were four steps to Yaakov’s ladder (I know there were many more, but we only are talking the first four rungs here), and the Zohar teaches that these four rungs parallel the four main stages of Morning Prayer. This begins with the earthly reality and slowly moves upward and inward to a higher, deeper level of connection and unity with Hashem. At the outset of prayer, we begin by standing on the first rung, and through the course of the prayer service, we climb the ladder toward spiritual perfection and elevation.

The four stages of Morning Prayer are as follows:

1) Morning Blessings (Birchas Hashachar) which reflect our dawn of our awareness.
2) Verses of Praise (Pesukei DeZimrah) which cut away any negativity and awaken our emotions.

3) Reading of the Shema (Kerias Shema) which internalizes our emotions.

4) The Silent Standing Prayer (Amidah also known as the Shemoneh Esrei) which is a deep encounter with the Divine in a quiet space of union, ultimately reaching a place of oneness.
The stages of prayer parallel the worlds of creation as well as the levels of our soul:
1) The world of action (Asiyah) and the soul level of physical/functional consciousness (Nefesh).
2) The world of formation (Yetzirah) and the soul level of emotional consciousness (Ruach).
3) The world of creation/context (Beriah) and the soul level of intellectual/cognitive ability (Neshamah).
4) The world of unity (Atzilus) and the soul level of transcendental consciousness (Chayah) which is reflected as our inner-most and deepest will and desire.
Yes, this is deep and very mystical, but simply put: doing prayer in order and completely is the design that Hashem gave us to maximize our efforts. Coming late and skipping may be nice, but far from the best way to connect to a much higher level of spirituality – losing out on the effectiveness of prayer. The worse problem about this bad habit is the individuals who do it daily, not just occasionally being late, but every day.

The next bit of advice is: remain in one place, do not walk around (within 4 cubits, about 2 meters or 7 feet). Many of us are familiar with the concept of “Makom Kavua,” a permanent place. Typically, we trivialize and neglect its significance, mainly thinking it to be important because of convenience. However, there’s a lot more thought involved. Below is just a small collection of Halacha and thoughts relevant to the concept of “Makom Kavua”:

1. The first makom set aside for prayer we know about was Avraham’s. The verse in Genesis 19:27 says Avraham would wake early in the morning “to the place where he had stood before Hashem.” The verse indicates Avraham had a designated spot where he would go to speak with Hashem.
2. Since prayer is when we converse with Hashem and establish a connection with Him, setting aside a space for prayer demonstrates while everything else may change, our connection to Hashem is constant and absolute.
3. The Talmud (Berachos 6b) teaches Hashem takes care of someone who sets aside a place for prayer -- Hashem destroys his enemies. There is much more discussion in the Talmud (Berachos 6 to 8) about the importance of a fixed place for prayer.
4. The Shulchan Aruch (90:19) and the Mishnah Berurah on 90:19 (59,60) mention the fix place of Avraham as the reason we must have a fixed 4 cubits. Even if one prays at home, there should still be a permanent fixed place for prayer.
5. The Zohar tells us that we are like the Alter in the Temple that our prayers rise like the smoke and the fire comes down like Hashem’s abundance, the fulfillment of our prayers. This also alludes to the fact that the Alter was in a fixed position and, when in use, never moved. We too must be fixed and not walk around.
6. There are other places that you will find references to praying within 4 cubits, but one that says it all is Tanya. The Tanya is an early work of Hasidic philosophy, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism, first published in 1797. It states very definitely that if you go outside of your 4 cubits, the Shechinah, “The Divine Presence,” is lifted from you. When we have a quorum, or minion, of ten men, the Shechinah comes down and is in our presence. If we walk around, it is almost like we are not part of the quorum – the Shechinah has left us. That is quite serious since we want to have every advantage in getting our prayers fulfilled.
Another negative habit worth mentioning is talking or studying or any other activity that has nothing to do with prayer. A good common sense test is, as mentioned above, pretend that you are having a private session with a King, a Prime Minister, a President or any very important dignitary, would you say to that person: Occupy yourself for a little while, I want to talk to my friend or I want to go read something. Sounds silly; yet, we are in a private session with the King of Kings, the only Infinite Source of Power in existence, and we take dangerous liberties that are very contrary to our mission of praying. Then we wonder why ours prayers were ineffective.

These items of misconduct are covered in the Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah with a very common theme, that of disturbing others around you. It is one thing to degrade your own prayer; it is not nice to mess up someone else’s prayer just because you want to talk or even study Torah (Shulchan Aruch 90:18), which is a distraction. The wording for not talking is interesting in the Shulchan Aruch (101:6) because it even covers the idea of praying too loud. Your voice should not be heard for several reasons, one is that Hashem is not hard of hearing (I was told that decades ago), and two, it is difficult to concentrate on one’s prayers when the person next to you is louder (of course that also includes nonsensical talking). The Shulchan Aruch states: Hearing another voice is compared to hearing a false prophet, for it was their custom to shout loudly to their idols. There is more detail, but you get the idea.

It is brought down in many places, unless you follow all of Hashem’s instructions on how to pray correctly, your prayer will not work. That means correcting all the bad habits that people take so lightly. They show absolutely no fear of Heaven when they say “there is no problem with the way I pray.” Instead, one should be in great fear of doing it incorrectly. Talking, walking around, studying, doing anything that is not prayer, not standing or sitting at the proper times, not observing the 4 cubits (daled amos) of those around us, not wearing the Tallit or Tefillin properly, etc, etc, etc are all violated by most who pray. One should check out all the possible mistakes that one makes; it makes a very big difference between having successful prayers or just wasting one’s time. If you can say “everything that I do during prayer is OK,” you are probably one of the violators. Study the Mishnah Berurah, the Shulchan Aruch and many other guides to serving Hashem properly, which teaches us how to pray correctly; you may be very surprised at how many mistakes you are making.

Using a proper prayer book is also important. Scriptures tell us that you can pray in any language, but you must understand the language you are using. Only Hebrew, which is the best for prayer, can be used without knowing what it means word-for-word (learning what it means is definitely beneficial). After all, as previously mentioned, the words are what cause the energies to flow and bring success. Hebrew is the best formula for that success. Hashem’s system of prayer is perfect and anything we do that detracts from that system makes our efforts less than perfect.

I have heard all my life “I talk to Hashem every day, but in my own words from the heart.” That is all well and good and should definitely be continued, Hashem wants to hear from us always. But, such praying or meditation should be supplemental to the real thing and not a substitute. Only praying with a proper quorum of at least ten men in a proper synagogue brings you to the perfect praying and the best results. (I know the Torah is sexist but let me break the myth by letting you know that it is completely in favor of women, not men – to be discussed).

Another secret that perhaps is the most important aspect of successful prayer is how we say the many names of Hashem. Throughout prayer there are many places that a name of Hashem is used, each one has a different meaning and is pertinent to the particular prayer being said. Two important actions must occur. One is to say each name clearly; and two is to think about what that particular name means (examples are one of Hashem's name is a name of mercy, another is of judgment). Since words and sounds are the key to positive energy flow, this becomes the most important part of prayer, speaking His names. This is more difficult than it sounds, but should be given great effort. Our drifting minds and our natural speed inhibit our effectiveness in praying. Believe it or not, books have been written on the deep meanings of Hashem’s names, so anything that I explain here is just a cursory look at what needs to be reviewed more deeply. The good news is, when you start to improve these two actions (proper pronunciation and meaning of names), results happen quickly. I admit, perfection is difficult, but working on it will result in visible improvement. I myself have much room for improvement, but my attitude towards loving Hashem and serving Him by wanting to improve, gives me the edge. Reminder: Hashem does not judge us by what we know, but how we grow. Hashem knows our intentions towards Him better than we do. When we really show how much we want to do the right thing, He helps us greatly, including giving us the ability to effectively and successfully pray.

We have all heard the expression “watch what you ask for, you may get it.” I only bring this up since asking for the wrong things can also work, but result in problems. Everyone is convinced that if they were very wealthy, they could handle it. I believe the opposite to be true. Money is evil. Many people who find themselves instantly rich tend to develop bad habits: drug habits, drinking habits, family problems; even the suicide rate is higher amongst the wealthy. Hashem gave us a system to satisfy our needs and our wants. We are obligated to use it for the right purpose. Since the system on Earth is measure for measure, we should only pray for things that will be according to Hashem’s will; otherwise, He will make sure we get correction for all our improper deeds. The secret here is to always want to help others. If wealth comes upon us, congratulations, but only if we have a great desire to help the poor, sick, elderly, hungry, orphan, widow, etc, etc, etc. I only use money as an example (probably the best example), but everything we do and acquire in life should be used for everyone’s benefit and to serve Hashem. That is what Hashem wants and that is why He gave us prayer. True success is when we demonstrate that we are unselfish. Take notice that most of our prayers are in the plural, saying "we" instead of "I." And, be aware, Hashem is listening to every word we say and watching every move we make. The good news is when we pray for others, and really have the proper attitude towards helping others, Hashem makes sure to take care of us.

I have been asked the question “why are Ashkenazi prayers different from Sephardi prayers? If praying is perfect, how can there be variations?” Rabbi Moshe David Valle (1697-1777) was a Kabbalist who wrote many books. One of the subjects, for which he is known, is stating the differences required by different Jews. Jews are very much influenced by their environmental conditions with which they grew up. A Jew in Northern Africa obviously has a very different situation from a Jew in Europe. Differences such food, water, air, climate, customs, etc actually cause differences to be needed by the soul in every activity in life. Prayer is very much included in the dichotomy, and therefore even requires different words and customs. You can’t get more exacting and scientifically accurate than that.

There are so many other benefits that comes from prayer to help us. We have talked about the importance of repentance, Teshuvah, especially now in the end of the end of days. Prayer includes repentance not only in specific prayers asking for help, but the improving of your ability and efficiency to pray.  Repentance is not just words, but actions.  As you improve your attitude, your level of inspiration level, your overall performance, your showing of both love and fear for Hashem by by constantly realizing before Whom you are standing, all these changes are 100% repentance.

Prayer includes charity.  Your attitude towards the collection of money, both for the synagogue and the individuals who visit from other organizations to collect, this is all noted by Hashem as to whether you truly want to help others, or whether you shy away from your responsibility.

There are definite commandments that are fulfilled with prayer.  The list is long and would require another post, but it is another benefit to prayer that is very hidden.

One of the most important areas of Torah study is knowing how to perform as a Jew 24/7. It is another reason that Torah study is so beneficial. If you want everything that you pray for to come to fruition, than do it correctly, it absolutely works. Thank you Hashem for such a perfect system that makes our lives and the lives of our loved ones so perfect and joyous.

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We are on this world for testing, for improving. The more you live the Absolute Truth, the less you need testing to reach Tikun. Learn how to maximize your life’s experience. My book will definitely help (I have many reviews from readers and even prominent Rabbis who have stated so).

I suggest that you buy the Ebook copy directly from me rather than the Kindle version. Since the version from me comes directly from my Email, you can send questions, comments (saying nice things, of course) directly to me. I have received many questions from my readers who want clarification or even just references for the information they read. I have no record of those who purchase the Kindle version, but I do know everyone who buys from me directly.

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  1. Kol hakovod, Rav, another very fine post.
    Here's my issue I speak with Hashem very much during the day.
    When I first took on frumkeit, I used to meditate before I davened and then I would daven. Then I meditated thanking Hashem for this time with Him. I was on such a high for the day.
    Then, I gave birth. BH. Okeeee, let's see. I know of many women who have umpteen children and daven.from the siddur daily. Great.
    I am.on the phone with my chavruta and get interrupted multiple times with.questions from.my kids. Yes, I try to tell them not to be bittul.Torah, yet they are young and so on..
    With all of the interruptions I find that siddur davening is stessful. I.pick up my sefer tehillim and.I.feel nervousness set in. Same with the siddur. Why? I associate it with the stress that comes.along with speeding up or being.interrupted in anticipation of being interrupted with requests etc...The shilohs to the rav.about what to do if a child needs you when you are in the middle of.such and such prayer ir... you get the point. It became technical- not wrote, just hurried.
    I realize that it's integral and I do want.to get.back into siddur davening, yet I find.it so far away now...

    1. I don't think that your situation is that uncommon. Many women, especially with young children, will tell you that their time is not their own. The good news is that because women are on a higher spiritual level than men, they don't have the strict davening requirements of men. That should help, since to begin with your davening isn't as long.

      The idea of communing with Hashem before and after davening is excellent. I constantly talk about turning to Hashem for everything and that definitely is not just during prayer.

      The only thought that I can give is a more scientific answer than a Jewish answer. Praying with a siddur is perfection, it includes everything we need to survive and thrive in life. If we do 50% of what we need to, than the results of our prayers might be only 50% effective. It is just that cut and dry.

      Hashem, however, in His mercy is still there for us, to help us with everything. Can the 50% be made up by additional conversation with Hashem? Probably yes, but I don't really know. All I know is that we have a perfect system available to us that works, the best thing is to try to use the system completely and add other things as icing on the cake.

      What a women needs is not in my area of expertise, even though my wife has been very successful in life, Hashem takes good care of her and she also is not 100% on the davening (of course, no young kids to disturb her, just me). Do what you can; and, above all, have the right attitude about wanting to do more. I've said it many times: "Hashem doesn't judge us by what we know, but how we grow."

  2. Rav Menachem, thank you again.

    Now for myself as Noahide, what sort of davening would you recommend. I have the Sephardic Torah and also "The Orot Sephardic Weekday Siddur".
    This may sound silly to you, and perhaps others, but the prayers for morning and afternoon and evening and night seem so long.
    I do speak to Hashem,( at the moment, because of somethings, i feel far and cannot talk to Hashem as i used to). Some guilt there.

    Does Hashem forgive easily, or is it just my imagination that Hashem is very angry and perhaps fedup of me.
    I am after all just Noachide, but this is where Hashem placed me, and i try do the what i can to move towards Hashem in the right way, but alas i waver and fall so many times.
    For any guidance and help, i thank you in advance.

  3. Thank you for another post about prayer, I have a question for you. Can Noahide wear the Tallit or Tefillin during prayer time?

    1. Most customs that we perform are definite commandments from the Torah. Tallit, which comes from the third paragraph of the Shema is a commandment for Jewish men to remind them of their obligation to fulfill the 613 commandments. The word Tallit has a numerology of 600; there are 8 strings and 5 knots. That totals 613 and is our reminder when we see it.

      A Noachide only has 7 commandments and therefore does not have the obligation of the Jewish male to wear a Tallit. The Tefillin is also commanded in the first paragraph of the Shema, obligating a Jewish male to wear it, but it is also not part of the 7 Noachide commandments and is therefore not required by a Noachide.

      Both of these commandments are not obligated by women either and is the reason why Jewish women don't wear Tallis and Tefillin. We follow Hashem's commandments to the letter and are not supposed to add or subtract from His instructions.

    2. Interesting. Ok, what can Noahide do? Can Noahide stand up and recite through siddur?

    3. An excellent question. I don't really know, so I Googled "How should a Noachide Pray? and came up with:
      which is a list of websites that have very interesting information and suggestions. It is involved, and I recommend you review these sites yourself. Look for consistent information upon which they all agree. If you see something that is very different from the others, it is probably someone's opinion that may not be correct.

      Whatever you decide to do, Hashem knows your intention to serve Him. That is the most important part of your performance -- know before Whom you are standing, and how much love you want to show.

  4. I started.to daven.again from.siddur..birchat hashachar; shema.and first paragraph and shemoneh esrei.
    My tehillim I say daily/every other day etc..I do that anyway...trying.to increase...