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Thursday
Aug072014

THREE PRAYERS IN ONE

“…the word “stand” in Hebrew (amad) is that it is an acronym for ani-poor, Moses and David, alluding to three archetypical prayers to which the Zohar refers, all of which are found in the Book of Psalms: The poor man’s prayer (T’filla L’Ani, Psalm 102); Moshe’s prayer (T’filla L’Moshe, Psalm 90) and King David’s prayer (T’filla L’Dovid, Psalm 86). The suggestion here is that Moshe’s “standing” prayer combined all three dimensions of prayer; that of a rich man, that of the quality of King David and that of a poor person.”

STANDING TO PRAY

One of the most heartrending sections in the Torah is the beginning of this week’s parsha, VaEschanan. In it Moshe recounts how he pleaded with G-d to allow him to enter the Promised Land of Israel, to which G-d’s answer was an unequivocal no! Indeed, G-d even asks him to cease praying.

Moshe begins his entreaty to G-d with the words: “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness…”

Rashi comments: “[You have begun to show Your servant] an opening to stand in prayer.”

What did Rashi have in mind when he wrote “stand in prayer?” Does it make a difference if he sat or stood during his prayer?

The simple answer is that the tone of Moshe’s pleadings with G-d suggested that his prayers were anything but casual and perfunctory. Moshe was pouring out his heart to G-d. Indeed, according to the Midrash, Moses prayed 515 prayers, the numerical value of the opening word of this week’s parsha and its very title “VaEschanan – I implored.” It is also the numerical value of the word t’filla, which means prayer. This may be a suggestion that Moshe’s prayer incorporated every nuance of prayer; it was a complete and quintessential prayer.

Hence Moshe’s prayer was the most powerful, heartfelt and persistent one imaginable. All of which can be said to be implicit in the word “standing.”

Standing carries within it several connotations:

First, it is a state of bittul, total self-abnegation. Thus, Judaism’s most significant prayer, the Amida (“Standing” prayer, also known as the Shmoneh Esrei) is described as one in which we stand as servants in the presence of the King, in a state of total submission.

Second, it is a symbol of confidence and victory.

Third, it conveys a sense of unyielding persistence, as in one who stands his ground.

THE THREE MODES OF PRAYER

Another way to understand the deeper meaning of the word “stand” in Hebrew (amad) is that it is an acronym for ani-poor, Moses and David, alluding to three archetypical prayers to which the Zohar refers, all of which are found in the Book of Psalms: The poor man’s prayer (T’filla L’Ani, Psalm 102); Moshe’s prayer (T’filla L’Moshe, Psalm 90) and King David’s prayer (T’filla L’Dovid, Psalm 86). The suggestion here is that Moshe’s “standing” prayer combined all three dimensions of prayer; that of a rich man, that of the quality of King David and that of a poor person.

To explain further:

THE RICH MAN’S PRAYER

Moshe was the richest of people. True wealth is not measured by material possessions but rather by the knowledge and good deeds one accumulates over a lifetime. In the words of the Talmud: “There is no poverty except poverty in knowledge.” Moshe spent 40 days and 40 nights studying Torah directly from the A-mighty. By this measure he was obviously the richest person that has ever lived. The scope of his wealth was not limited to his knowledge and good deeds. No other person before or after him had such a sublime direct line of communication with G-d. Moshe was endowed with all of the most significant of spiritual possessions. In addition, our Sages tell us that Moshe also enjoyed abundant material wealth. When G-d asked him to hew the second set of tablets from stones of sapphire, Moshe was enriched by all the chipped off pieces of sapphire.

Now, one may ask, living in the desert with all of their physical needs taken care of, what value were the chips of sapphire to Moshe? Why would he even care about material wealth? And why do our Sages make such an issue of it? Compared against his spiritual wealth, the sapphire chips must have seemed next to worthless for a Torah-steeped man like Moshe!

There are two answers to that question, both of which buttress Moshe’s title as a rich man, in every sense of the word.

The first reason a tzaddik would care for material gain is that it enables him to refine the physical world. Each time a Jew engages the material world and then uses its rewards for a higher spiritual purpose, he or she gains the capacity to refine that physical world. The Kabbalists speak of the sparks of holiness embedded in each physical object, which devolved from a lofty spiritual source. These sparks lie dormant until a pious Jew comes in contact with the physical vessels that contain them, through ownership or the like, and then uses the object to perform a Mitzvah. When that happens, unprecedented G-dly energy is unleashed and the world is suffused with heretofore untapped spiritual power.

Thus, for the righteous person, wealth is an opportunity to change the world, remaking it into one that conforms to G-d’s ultimate purpose: a world saturated with G-dly awareness and sensitivity.

There is another reason for the Torah’s description of Moshe’s material wealth. In a perfect world, the physical and spiritual enjoy a symbiotic and reciprocal relationship, wherein the existence of one is a manifestation of the other. In that ideal world, a spiritually wealthy person will also be materially wealthy, not because he or she needs or craves the wealth, but because the physical world is not an independent entity; it draws its sustenance from, and therefore parallels, the spiritual. Thus, unprecedented wealth for Moshe was “merely” an expression of his unsurpassed spiritual wealth. It was an expression of his having attained the highest level of perfection, where the spiritual and the physical are but two sides of the same coin.

Moshe, as the richest person to have ever lived, prayed the prayer of the one who has it all, materially and spiritually. His prayers were therefore not for himself but for the sake of others, for he had no needs of his own. His needs, as a trusted leader, were the needs of the Jewish nation.

KING DAVID’S PRAYER

King David’s prayer was also most powerful. King David is described (II Samuel 23:1) as the “Sweet singer of Israel.” Rashi explains that all of the songs sung in the Beis HaMikdash were taken from King David’s Psalms. Others explain that King David’s songs expressed the songs within the hearts of all the Jewish people. More than any other person, King David was able to tap into their hearts and souls and express their most profound and heartfelt emotions. King David was able to express feelings of profound anguish and galling bitterness because of the terrible suffering the Jewish people experienced. And yet, he could just as easily express the greatest feelings of gratitude, joy, exultation and every other emotion.

To recite Psalms is thus the most effective way to rich self-expression. The Divine poetry of the Psalms is unparalleled, not just for its beauty and poignancy but because it has the power to open the heart and soul of everyone who recites those immortal words.

THE POOR MAN’S PRAYER

But then there is a third form of prayer, which according to the Zohar is even more powerful than the other two: the prayer of a poor person.

While Moshe’s prayer is the richest and David’s the most expressive, the poor man’s prayer is the most powerful. His broken heart carries the greatest of forces that can pierce any barrier. While it might be less sophisticated than the prayer of the rich man, and far less beautiful and poetic than David’s prayer, it is one that has no barrier that can contain it. In the words of the Zohar: “Come and see: The prayer of all human beings is real prayer, but the prayer of a poor person is a prayer that rises before the Blessed Holy One, breaking through gates and doors, penetrating to be received in His presence.”

In addition to the broken heart aspect of the poor man’s prayer, the Baal Shem Tov referred to another unique quality in this mode of prayer. In the words of Psalm 102: “A prayer of the poor man when he is faint, and pours out his plea before G-d.” The poor or afflicted person is not really asking for any particular need. He just wants to communicate with G-d Himself. While other petitioners seek this or that benefit from G-d, the poor man says “I just want to speak to You.”

The Rebbe explained that this is analogous to the words uttered by the Alter Rebbe in his moments of spiritual ecstasy: “I desire not Your paradise or Your World-to-Come. I want You exclusively!”

While the potent and elegant prayers of the rich man (Moshe) and of the “Sweet Singer of Israel” (David) conveyed deep emotions and struck responsive chords in the Heavenly spheres, they could not compare with the prayer of the poor man, who expresses his essence and who wants nothing in return other than an opportunity to connect with G-d’s essence.

When Moshe stands before G-d in his final prayer, he recognizes that he too needs to acquire the penetrating power of the poor man. He urgently needed to come before G-d not as the rich Moshe he was or with the elegant and sweet song of David, but with the simple broken-hearted plea of the poor man who says to G-d, “I want to be with You.”

OUR PRAYERS FOR MOSHIACH

The application of these thoughts to today is clear.

We plead incessantly for the Final Redemption and we do so with all three forms of prayer. We are the richest generation in history because we have the cumulative spiritual wealth of the past. We have the sweetest and most spiritually uplifting teachings of Chassidus, which are G-d’s songs, and that render our prayers sweet and inspiring. While all of Torah is likened to a song, its spiritual dimension, communicated through the teachings of Chassidus, is a song suffused with endless Divine notes and serves as the key of the soul to unlock its deepest secrets.

Ultimately, the prayer that will break through all the obstacles and bring about the Geula is the prayer of the poor man, the person who is shattered by the concealment of G-d’s presence in exile and who prays sincerely, with a broken heart, and asks for nothing other than the Redemption, when we will stand in the Holy Temple with Moshiach in the presence of G-d.

 

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