Monday, July 23, 2007

Va-ethannan Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11


Parshat Va'etchanan teaches us about the importance of tefillah, prayer. The word "va'etchanan - and I prayed" has the same numerical value as tefillah - 515. This also alludes to the 515 times that Moses prayed to Hashem that he be allowed to enter the land of Israel.

As Jews, we realize that prayer is not merely an obligation, but also an opportunity to connect our hearts and souls to Hashem in the most profound and personal way. The root of the Hebrew word tefillah means to join or connect. Tefillah is called the "service of the heart" and not the "service of the lips". Although we must say the words as we pray, it is our intent and deliberate attachment to Hashem when we pray that transforms our prayers from something rote and mechanical to something spiritual and meaningful.

In a strong sense, it is our ability to transcend our material surroundings and "step out of ourselves" through prayer that distinguishes Man from other species as the m'daber, one who has the unique ability to articulate his thoughts.

Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz, an 18th century Torah giant, explains the opening verse of this week's portion - "I prayed to Hashem at that time, saying" - as follows: "I prayed to Hashem at that time to grant me the ability to express myself to Him through prayer."

This idea is also expressed in the introduction to the Shemonei Esrei, our daily fundamental prayer, in the words "Hashem s'fatai tiftach - Hashem open my lips, and my mouth will articulate Your praise." Before expressing our gratitude to Hashem for His kindness to us and before we beseech Him with our needs, we first ask that He open our lips and make prayer possible.

The traditional response to "L'chaim - For life!" is "L'chaim v'livracha - For life and for blessing." However, it can also be interpreted as "L'chaim v'lev racha - For life and for a soft, sensitive heart." We should all merit the blessing of a sensitive heart to appreciate the value of the prayers that we offer and the opportunities that prayer offers us.

Jack Jaget
creates wonderful book covers for Prayerbooks. While prayer comes from the heart, holding a Machzor like one of these can make the words come easier.

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