Thursday, August 14, 2008

Va'Eschanan 5631 Third Ma'amar

Chazal[1] teach us that if one prays immediately after saying Kri’as Shma, his prayer is accepted. Why is this? Why is it important to pray immediately following Kri’as Shma? The answer, the Sfas Emes teaches, entails a deeper understanding of both Kri’as Shma and prayer.

A simple understanding of the sequence of Kri’as Shma followed by prayer is this. Kri’as Shma is a declaration that God is one and that He gives existence and life to all. Prayer is calling out to God. Our prayers are meaningful to the extent that we believe our declaration. Significantly, the pasuk upon which this Chazal is based ends with the words from this week’s parsha, “... בְּכָל־קָרְאֵנוּ אֵלָיו/… whenever we call to Him.” (Devarim 4:7) Prayer is meaningful to the extent that we are calling to God.

The Sfas Emes, however, elucidates a deeper aspect to the connection between Kri’as Shma and prayer. The Sfas Emes teaches us that prayer follows the declaration of Kri’as Shma because to the extent that God is revealed, our prayers are accepted. To understand this, our concept of prayer needs to change.

Generally, we think of prayer as requests that we make of God. We ask God for things that we believe are good for us. The ultimate good, of course, is God Himself. When God gives us something that is good, in essence He is revealing Himself to us. Everything that we receive is essentially a revelation. Taking this idea to extreme, if He revealed Himself to us completely, we would have no need for further prayer. Regardless of our specific request, then, what we are really asking for when we pray, is God’s revelation.

God gave us the ability to effect His revelation by calling out to Him, declaring that we believe He is here but hidden and asking Him to reveal Himself. The ultimate goal of prayer is God’s revelation. Thus, God’s revelation and the acceptance of our prayers is one and the same thing. And, as the Sfas Emes teaches us, to the extent that God is revealed, our prayers are accepted.

In addition to saying Kri’as Shma, Chazal required us to precede prayer with a mention of the redemption from Egypt. Recalling the redemption is another way of reminding ourselves that God is hidden within everything, even the darkest exile. The definition of redemption, the Sfas Emes teaches us, is revelation. If redemption is revelation, then exile is concealment. God is in the exile with us. He gives existence to the exile as well.

There can be no better segue to prayer which, as we’ve said, is essentially a request that God reveal Himself to us, than to remind ourselves that God is here and hidden and can therefore reveal Himself to us.

This week’s parsha contains the ten commandments. This is the second time the ten commandments appear in the Torah. They first appear in parshas Yisro.[2] There are several differences between the two versions of the ten commandments. We find one difference in the mitzvah of Shabbos. In parshas Yisro the Torah tells us that the reason for the mitzvah of Shabbos is because God rested on the seventh day of the Creation.[3] By keeping Shabbos we are testifying that God created the world and that he is the cause of its continued existence.

In this week’s parsha the mitzvah of Shabbos contains no mention whatsoever of the Creation. Instead, the Torah tells us that by keeping Shabbos we remember the Exodus.[4] We were slaves in Egypt and God delivered us from bondage. What is the connection between Shabbos and the Exodus?

According to the concept that exile is God’s concealment and redemption is His revelation, the answer is clear. Both the Exodus and Shabbos are testimony that everything is from God. By mentioning the Exodus before prayer, we declare our belief that God was with us in the exile and that He revealed Himself thus effecting the redemption. By keeping Shabbos, too, as the Torah notes in the first version of the ten commandments, we are testifying that God created the world and that He gives continued existence to the Creation. For this reason, we say in kidush on Friday night that Shabbos is a remembrance for the Exodus.

May we merit approaching prayer as it was meant to be approached, as a plea for God’s revelation. Amen.

[1] Devarim R. 2:10

[2] Shmos 20:1-13

[3] Shmos 20:10

[4] Devarim 5:14


Long Beach Chasid said...

always a pleasure reading your thoughts on the Sfas Emes Mamarim. I learn them through other English sources, and you always have something extra to add to it. Yasher Koach, & Good Shabbos.

Shlomo (msj121) said...

I read this when it is now Eikev; nonetheless, Torah is Torah, and that was gevaldik!

And we say in Benching on Shabbos:
"harachaman hoo yanchilenu yom sheKULO SHABBAT imenucha lchayei ha'olamim". Here Olam Habah is being call "Yom sheKulo Shabbat" (the day that is always Shabbat). Shabbat is 1/60th the taste of the Olam Habah. The idea of Shabbat itself is a revelation of HaKodesh Barchu (a clear and perfect one hopefully soon).

So it goes amazingly well with your vort.

Thank you and Gut Vocht.