Ezras Avoseinu #11: Davening as Our Avos Davened

ועונה לעמו בעת שועם אליו

He answers His people when they call Him for help.

The following is quoted* from Rav Schwab on Prayer (pages 394-395):

The word “שועם–shav’am,” from which we get the word ישועה, is used in the sense of “calling for help.”

There is a statement in the Zohar HaKadosh (BaMidbarBalak 195) that when a person prepares himself for Shemoneh Esrei, he should imagine himself as poor and helpless.  In this connection, I would like to repeat the following thought, which I heard from my revered rebbe, HaRav Yerucham Levovitz, the Mirrer Mashgiach:

The Torah tells us that just prior to K’rias Yam Suf, “B’nei Yisrael were gripped with terror, and they cried out to Hashem (Sh’mos 14:10).”  Rashi (ibid.), quoting from the M’chilta, comments on this: תפשו אומנות אבותם – by engaging in tefilah, “they emulated the art of their Forefathers.”  They utilized the ancient Jewish “art form” of tefilah, which they had inherited from their Forefathers.  This “art” of tefilah was practiced by Avraham, who instituted tefilas Shacharis, followed by Yitzchak, who instituted tefilas Minchah, and then by Yaakov, who established tefilas Maariv.

But this quotation from the M’chilta begs the question: What connection is there between the ordinary daily devotional tefilos of our Forefathers, and the desperate cry of the Jewish people for salvation from the seemingly hopeless situation in which they found themselves at the Yam Suf?

My rebbe explained this as an example of הרי זה בא ללמד ונמצא למד.  By comparing the two, the Chachamim have shed light on the ordinary daily tefilos of our Avos.  They are describing to us how the Avos davened Shacharis, Minchah, and Maariv.  The Avos stood before HaKadosh Baruch Hu during their daily tefilos with the awareness that they were totally helpless without Him.  Were it not for chasdei Hashem, they would not be able to think, see, hear, talk, walk, or even live for another second.  No aspect of their lives would be possible.  They understood that without the will of HaKadosh Baruch Hu and without His chasadim, one’s daily existence would be as hopeless as the situation in which B’nei Yisrael found themselves at the Yam Suf.

In times of their greatest despair, B’nei Yisrael emulated that which their Forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, did in their ordinary daily tefilos, and which they wanted their offspring to follow.

Therefore, as we prepare ourselves for Shemoneh Esrei, we stand before HaKadosh Baruch Hu and concentrate on our total dependence on Him for our very existence.  We realize that without this, we are as helpless שפלים–sh’falim, as our forefathers were when they were confronted by the Egyptian גאים–gei’im, who still considered B’nei Yisrael as their slaves, אסירים–asirim – and during which confrontation we were ענוים–anavim and דלים–dalim, helpless and powerless to defend ourselves.  It is in this frame of mind that we, too, approach HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ask Him to answer our tefilos just as He answered our forefathers: ועונה לעמו בעת שועם אליו.

*The above is quoted from Rav Schwab on Prayer by Rabbi Shimon Schwab, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Integrating Mitzvos into Our Daily Lives

We are working on the mitzvah of Tefilah through these weekly segments.  The Chovos HaL’vavos encapsulates the purpose of tefilah with these powerful words:

כוונתנו בתפילה אינה כי אם כלות הנפש אל הא-לוהים וכניעתה לפניו

Our intent in tefilah is essentially nothing but longing for Hashem and humbling ourselves before Him, recognizing that we are totally dependent upon Him.

The last two words are what HaRav Schwab has discussed above.  We are completely powerless and helpless in every aspect of life without Hashem.  If we would deeply internalize this concept with clarity, then our tefilos would be like B’nei Yisrael at K’rias Yam Suf and like our Avos daily.

Understanding translation of words, pronouncing words properly, and grouping words properly are all important.  However, while all are necessary, when we look at the actual purpose of tefilah, we can see that, by far, most important of all, is to recognize and feel deeply that we are standing directly before our Creator, Master, and loving Father, upon whom we are totally dependent.  If we were to only focus on preciseness of how we recite the words but would be missing awareness and heart, our tefilos would be like a lifeless body without spirit.  We would be missing the ikar (primary purpose) of tefilah.

How can we work to achieve the purpose of tefilah – having greater heart and connection during our tefilos?  One certain way is to personalize our tefilos.  We have written about this before, so we won’t delve into detail now.  Suffice it to say that each and every one of us standing before Hashem in Shemoneh Esrei has a combination of huge and small needs: needs for ourselves, our families, friends, communities, and klal Yisrael.  Hashem grants us the daily privilege and opportunity to cry out (crying out can mean in our hearts and minds) to Him for our needs, and at the same time gifts us the ability to come closer to Him as a result.  How sweet is that?