Tuesday, September 23, 2014

the most important thing to daven for

Slichos week(s) for me means suffering from a lack of sleep, so I haven't had energy to write, but I did want to wish everyone a kesiva v’chasima tovah and say thank you for those who take a few minutes to read, comment, and e-mail during the year and apologies to everyone whose e-mails I never got to or whose comments I may not have responded to or responded to inconsiderately.  

R’ Tzadok says “shanah tovah u’mesukah” = ain tov elah Torah, and when it comes to mesukah, what can be sweeter than learning?  We should all have a year filled with limud haTorah and the sweetness of Torah for ourselves and for all of Klal Yisrael.

Everyone is busy davening for health and parnasa and nachas from their children – banay, chayay, mezonay – but Rosh haShana is about much more than that.  The Sefas Emes explains that we use the simanim derech remez to ask for our needs not because these things are so important that we need extra reminders, but to the contrary, because aside for our tefilos that “m’loch al kol ha’aretz,” everything else is secondary.  It's like when you learn a pasuk and you the pshat is staring right at you, but derech remez there is a little hint to something else in there.  The really important think is to be mamlich Hashem, and like a derech remez along with that we can shlep in our own needs that can help accomplish that goal. 

We've been saying "achas sha'alti m'eis Hashem... shivti b'beis Hashem."  Is there a quota that says you can only make one request?  Why did Dovid haMelech say he asks for one thing and one thing only?  Tosfos (B.M. 106a d"h l'nisa) says a chiddush: if someone rents a field and plants barley instead of wheat, breaking his agreement with the owner, even if everyone's field is hit with a problem, e.g. a locust swarm ruins all the crops, the owner of the field can say to the person renting "Tough luck."  The owner has a dinei mamonos right to say to the person renting that he was davening for a good wheat crop and Hashem would have listened and saved his field -- it's only because the renter switched and planted barley that it was a total loss.  But, says Tosfos, if the owner doesn't specify what to plant, all bets are off.  Even if the person renting plants nothing, the owner should not have a claim because for Hashem to respond to the prayer to let whatever is planted succeed, some general all-purpose request, takes a miracle.  

So what are you going to daven for?  You have to be specific if you are not relying on a miracle.  Shoud you ask for your shares of Facebook to go up?  But then what if your real estate goes south?  Should you ask for the real estate to go up?  Then what is going to happen to the stocks?  So the Tiferes Shlomo tells us that Dovid haMelech had the answer.  If you want to choose one specific thing to daven for, "Achas sha'alti," it's gotta be "Shivti b'veis Hashem."  If you daven for that, then Hashem will give you whatever you need to make it happen, banay, chayay, mezonay.

My daughter is in Eretz Yisrael and I wanted to tell her something about Eretz Yisrael for the Yom Tov so I asked her why we say Aleinu in the middle of musaf.  Some people may see Aleinu and get excited thinking davening is almost over, but it's just a fake out and we have a long way t go.  Is there a shortage of tefilos that we have to borrow Aleinu from the end of davening and can't come up with something new for malchiyos?   

The theme of malchiyos is that Hashem should be king over the entire world.  “Tein pachdecha al kol ma’asecha…”  “Meloch al kol ha’olam…”  etc.  If we had completely conquered Eretz Yisrael and subjugated all the nations there when we first entered the land, that would have been it – geulah achieved, and Hashem’s malchus over the world complete.  Aleinu was composed by Yehoshua and it spells out exactly that plan: “L’takein olam b’malchus Sha-kai…” to bring about Hashem’s malchus.  Unfotunately, we didn't get the job done.  Therefore, says the Sefas Emes, on  Rosh haShana, the time of teshuvah, we revisit Yehoshua's plan when we come to say malchiyos.  We think about what we failed to achieve at the time of Yehoshua and hope that inspires us to work toward the goal now and establish Hashem and the one King over all. 

A few weeks ago R' Zev Leff was in America and he spoke to a women's group and said that the year Taf-Shin-Ayin-Hey spells the word tisha .  This year is like the 9th month and geulah is waiting to be born. Maybe it's also a remez to teshu'ah (you need a shuruk instead of the vav).  But what I am reminded of by the letters Shin-Ayin-Hey in the name of the year is something else: the gemara tells the story of R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya, who was told by a zonah that teshuvah was impossible for him, as he had sinned too much.  These words pierced his heart and he decided to repent.  He begged first the heavens and earth for help, then the planets and stars, but they all refused him.  Each one claimed that they had their own problems to deal with.   R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya realized that teshuvah was up to him alone, and so he put his dead down and cried till his soul departed.  A bas kol then declared that R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya had earned olam haba.  When Rebbi heard this story he cried and said, “Yeh koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas.”  Shin-Ayin-Hey = sha’ah.  When I hear Taf-Shin-Ayin-Hey I think of the sha’ah achas of R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya.

The simple pshat in the story is that in a single moment, sha’ah achas, a person can redeem his/her whole life.  R’ Tzadok haKohen tells us that the real meaning of a word is always found in the first place the Torah uses it.  What is the first place the word “sha’ah” appears in the Torah?  When Kayin tries of offer a second-rate korban, the Torah says, “V’el Kayim v’el minchaso lo sha’ah,” Hashem did not desire Kayim or his sacrifice.  Sha’ah means desire.  What Rebbi was saying is “Yesh koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas” – a person can acquire olam ha’bah if he/she just has even a little bit of desire to get there.

Kesiva v'chasima tovah to everyone!


  1. According to this Tosofot, I guess Klal Yisroel were relying on a miracle when Amalek attacked and they didn't specify who their enemy was in their prayers. Or maybe that was specific enough since either way they were davening for physical salvation.

    1. The Meshech Chochma flips your argument around and says that Amalek use of the tactic of disguise proves the point the gemara is making (http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14061&st=&pgnum=292).

      I did a post back in 2006 looking at it as you do, from BN"Y's perspective, asking your question: http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2006/07/general-vs-specific-tefillah-and.html
      The post is not very well written (I never bother to go back and edit), but in a nutshell, three things you can say:
      1) Difference between kol and tefilah -- Hashem responded to the kol, not the words.
      2) Difference between having enough of a guarantee to make a dinei mamonos claim against another party and Hashem going lifnim m'shuras hadin to help even though there is no guarantee he will or has to.
      3) BN"Y had no choice, since they did not know who the enemy was. The farmer has a choice, since he knows what is being planted. In retrospect, this is a weak answer. B'pashtus they either thought the enemy was Amalek or Canaan, but who says they were confused? Efshar yes, efshar no.

      I don't know why I didn't think of it then, but it seems like the simplest answer is maybe there is a difference between tefilah of the rabim and tefilah of the yachid. Amalek's hava amina was that there is no such chiluk between the rules as applied to the individual and the rules that apply to Klal Yisrael as a whole.

      I'm not sure about your second answer. If physical salvation is a specific thing, then why is parnasa -- even if the crop is not specified -- not specific enough?

      Kesiva v'chasima tova!

  2. Thanks for the sources and the great chilukim.

    Regarding my second answer, I was suggesting that Bnei Yisroel's prayer for their own salvation was similar to the landowner's prayer for a specific crop. As long as the landowner knows which crop to pray for he doesn't have to specify every single type of catastrophe that could happen. So too, as long as Bnei Yisroel were praying for themselves, they didn't have to specify each and every nation that could possibly destroy them.