Many times we ask: “What is prayer?” It is indeed a difficult question to answer, but are we not taught: Only that man’s prayer is answered who lifts his hands with his heart in them. Taanis 8a
Another thought: Every word of your prayer is like a rose which you pick from its bush. You continue until you have formed a bouquet of blessings until you have pleated a wreath of beauty and glory to G-d.
A shepherd once grappled with the question of payer:
There once was a Jewish shepherd who was very simple and had very little understanding of Jewish prayer and traditions. Everyday he would go out to the fields with the sheep and as he watched the flock, he would sit on a rock and play upon his flute.
As the Jewish Holidays neared he saw many people traveling on the road going to the nearby city. Each day more and more people traveled down the road. The shepherd asked the travelers what was so special that they were going to the city for.
“We are on the way to a holy rabbi, to spend the holidays with the tzaddik,(a pious and righteous man), and pray that the Holy One, blessed be He answer our prayers with goodness, mercy and health.”
“Why is this so important?” asked the shepherd.
“Come with us and see how special the holy rabbi is”
The boy was uncomfortable, for you see he did not know how to pray. He only knew that he was Jewish and that there is a G-d who provides for all our needs. Not knowing what to do, the boy went into the woods with his flute to think and play a soulful melody. He thought and thought for a long time and decided to go with the people to meet this special rabbi.
The shepherd left the woods and the fields behind him as he walked down the road to the city. He did not know what to expect. He felt everyone knew more than him. He could not pray and did not even know the language of prayer.
He slowly made his way to the old wooden shul (synagogue) and saw that everyone was deep in prayer. The holy rabbi looked so sad. The shepherd carefully watched the holy rabbi who stood under his large tallis (prayer shawl) in front of the shul. It covered his head and body, and the boy saw him swaying gently back and forth. The shepherd began to sway as he thought to himself, “the grain in the field moves with the wind out of respect for the Creator of all things and this is how everything in the world is holy.”
The shepherd sat when everyone else sat he stood up when they stood up, but the holy rabbi was different. He seemed to be shivering and standing most of the time. The young boy felt that each person in the old wooden shul (synagogue) was able to pray to G-d but not him. At one point, every one was standing up and it was so quiet in the shul that the shepherd could actually hear his very own heart beating. He looked at the holy rabbi and saw on the floor a wet spot, the rabbi was crying. He felt an urge to do something, but what could he do? He could not read Hebrew, he knew no prayer. With streams of his own tears, he pulled out his flute and played a soulful tune to the holy One, blessed be He.
As he began his melody, the people in the shul (synagogue) were shocked. They turned in anger to look at this terrible violation of the holy prayer service. As they shouted at him to stop this terrible thing, the boy looked terrified. The holy rabbi, ran up to the boy and said, “Sha shtil (quiet, be still) no one is to say anything harsh to this boy for it is because of him that the blessings of Heaven are possible this day.”
The people were awed of the tzaddik’s words, as he explained “All day we have prayed, but not one prayer ascended to the heavens. The gates of the heaven were closing as the holiday was ending when suddenly, this boy in his innocence and pure heart and tears began to play his flute. He prayed with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his might and the doors of heaven opened up and our prayers were accepted.”
“We should learn from this simple shepherd and his prayer.” He took the young boy by the hand and led him to the front of the shul (synagogue) and together under the holy rabbi’s tallis they finished their prayers.
Everyone can pray with true devotion. Let us just open ourselves up and let our prayers and thoughts rise to G-d, for He hears all prayers.
May all your
tales end with Shalom (peace)
After three weeks of sadness and Tisha b’Av, a time of remembering the loss and destruction of the Holy temple in Jerusalem, the words “Nachamu, nachamu ami, Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” (Isaiah 40:1) ring out in synagogues this Shabbos throughout the world.
One can always find comfort in their service to Hashem as their emunah (faith) is strengthened.
One should serve Hashem (G-d) with modesty and humility. We learn in Kedushas Levi: “It is right that a person should be modest in their service of Hashem, as it is written in the Morning Prayers, “Let a man fear the Lord in private….” But in order to lift up the holy sparks that are hidden in others, it may be necessary to reveal his own fear of Hashem, for by this means he may turn them also to the fear of Hashem. And this was the purpose of Israel’s wandering through the desert.”"
One’s service to Hashem (G-d) is private and is no concern of others for no one can duplicate the service of one’s heart.
Many many years ago there was a drought in Eretz Yisrael (the lad of Israel). The skies were clear and the sun shined brightly. Water was scarce and the children cried from thirst.
The holy rabbi of Sfas called for a community fast and everyone was to be in the shul to prayer that the Holy One, blessed be He be merciful and bless the land with life giving rain.
The people prayed and fasted, but the skies stayed clear and no rain came.
That night as the rabbi slept he dreamed that the rains would come if the shopkeeper would lead the morning prayer.
In the morning when the rabbi woke, he dismissed the dream because the shopkeeper was not very learned and was not knowledgeable enough to lead the community in prayer. That day the sun’s heat was great.
The same dream came to the rabbi again that night. This time he knew there was something special about the shopkeeper.
As everyone gathered in the shul in the morning, the rabbi called the shopkeeper and told him to lead everyone in prayer.
The shopkeeper looked at the rabbi and saw that he was serious and could not understand why he was to lead the prayer. The rabbi knew he could not even read all of the words of the morning prayers. The shopkeeper looked into the rabbi’s eyes once more and then burst out of the shul.
Many saw the shopkeeper as he ran out of the shul with his tallis waving behind. After sometime he returned carrying something hidden in his tallis. He went up to the aron kodesh.
The shopkeeper opened the aron kodesh, kissed the sefer Torah and then removed from under his tallis the scales from his shop. Silence fell over the shul as the shopkeeper raised his hands towards the shamayim (heavens) and began “Ribbono shel olam, Master of the Universe, hear me now. If I have ever mistreated anyone in my shop, let these scales be witness against me. Every day when I look at these scales I see Your holy name. As I look at the right pan I see a “yud”, the right pan and arm, a “hay”; the center post, a “vov”; and the left arm and pan, a “hay”. When I see Your holy name I think of the Torah and the many wonders You have provided to b’nai Yisrael. In your infinite mercy please grant the rains so that the people of Israel can sing your praises.
The skies grew dark and the rains came. The people wondered and asked the holy rabbi why this simple shopkeeper’s prayer was answered and not that of the community.
The holy rabbi answered that one should serve Hashem with modesty and humility and many times our daily avodah (service) becomes mechanical and it done by rote. The shopkeeper sees the greatness of Hashem (G-d) everyday and therefore serves him always in the words of the shema, “b’chol levavacha, uva’chol nasfshacha, uva’chol me’odecha (with all your heart, and all your soul and all your might)”
Let us all pray we can find comfort in our daily prayers as did the simple shopkeeper did many years ago in Sfas.
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)
In a certain city lived the owner of a fabric mill who had successfully developed a new type of fabric. It was a remarkable fabric, strong, soft to the touch and appealing to the eye.
The fabric became very popular, and many people gathered outside his mill to buy it. It became so popular, that he was simply unable to manufacture enough of the fabric to meet the overwhelming demand.
While there were many individuals who actually preferred their old clothes, which were still in excellent condition, they nevertheless, purchased the new fabric and had clothing sewn from it, as they wanted to keep up with the styles.
One who observed a group of people wearing clothing made from the new fabric, would have no way of knowing which of them truly enjoys wearing the clothing and which of them is wearing those clothes just to be fashionable.
However, there is one way to discern a weaver’s true motives. If the person meets the inventor and makes an effort to thank him for his innovative achievement, even telling him how pleased they are with the fabric, it is an indication that the person is truly pleased.
But then there are those who greet the inventor with a sour face and treat him rather poorly. Given the opportunity, they will even go so far as to blame him over the fact that he caused them to spend a great deal of money. Such individuals are wearing the fabric only to appear fashionable.
One can distinguish between the Divine service of various individuals, in the very same manner. There are those who perform the mitzvos (religious duties) out of Heavenly fear and love for the Creator. Then there are those who perform the mitzvos by rote, simply for the sake of discharging an obligation. The only way to discern between them is by observing the manner in which they carry out the mitzvos. One who fulfills them with joy and excitement and tries to be as meticulous as possible, falls under the category of one who truly loves the Holy One,blessed be He. But if not…
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)
Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which coincidentally have occurred on the ninth of Av.
Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples which stood in the holy city of Jerusalem, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.). It is also appropriate to consider on this day the many other tragedies of the Jewish people, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jewish people from Spain in 1492.
Though we remember the tragedies and are saddened by them, it is a time of joy. One should not be overcome by the sadness, but remember that the Holy One, blessed be He hears the prayers from our broken hearts and provides us with many opportunities.
It once happened that some rabbis walked through the holy city of Jerusalem everyday, and when they came upon the Western Wall they would remember the Holy Temple and cry.
One day as they approached the place of the destroyed Holy Temple, they saw a strange sight. There was a man singing and dancing. The rabbis went to the man and asked him, “don’t you know what this spot is?” The man answered not, he just continued to sing and dance. “Have you no respect? Do you not mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple?” The man answered not, he just continued to sing and dance. The rabbis became angry and began to scold the man.
The man stopped his singing and dancing, turned and faced the rabbis. “Rabbis, holy rabbis, you ask about my behavior, but understand not. I sing and dance because it says in the Holy Torah that we should love G-d with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. See the greatness of G-d who takes his anger out on wood and stone and lets us do teshuvah (repent), continue to do good deeds and study Torah.”
The rabbis left the man to his singing and dancing and realized that Torah is the basis of life.
May all your
tales end with Shalom (peace)