Thursday, September 16, 2010

קַוֵּה אֶל־ה' חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ וְקַוֵּה אֶל־ה׳/Hope to God; strengthen yourself and He will give your heart courage, and hope to God. (Tehillim 27:14)

Introductory Note:  The Sfas Emes wrote a commentary on Tehillim that was republished a few years ago.  The following was taken from that commentary.

Chazal understand "hope" in this pasuk as referring to prayer.  They learn from the repetition, "If a person sees that he prayed and was not answered he should pray again …" (Brachos 32b)  Why does David HaMelech assume that a person will be answered if he prays for the same thing a second time when he was not answered the first time?  What has changed?

The Sfas Emes learns the answer from the seemingly extra word that Chazal use.  They say, "If a person sees that he prayed …"  Why not say simply, "If a person's prayer was not answered …"?  Many times "seeing" means "understanding".  Someone whose prayer is not answered is forced to take a step back and consider what it is that God wants of him.  Thinking about prayer, we come to the conclusion that we pray to God because we are unable to answer our prayers ourselves.  Praying is a declaration of our inadequacies.  It forces us to humility. 

The Sfas Emes explains that a person's prayers are not answered because he has not internalized this humility.  God has not answered his prayers to help him realize his own lowliness, inadequacy and dependence.  When a person sees and understands this, the nature of his prayers change.

The answer to the question then, affords us a fundamental understanding of the purpose of prayer.  God obviously has no need for our prayers.  The purpose of prayer is for us to realize that we are not in charge.  Turning to God and asking for that which we lack is a clear declaration that we do not have the answer to our prayer and can only get it from Him.

The pasuk teaches us this process.  First, we ask God to fulfill our needs.  If we "see" that we are not answered, this is a sure sign that we are not sufficiently humble.  We need to strengthen ourselves from "courage of the heart" which the Sfas Emes understands as referring to arrogance and realize that our hearts are not independent rather they are dependent upon prayer.  Once we've internalized this concept, we return to pray again.

The holy Rav Dov Ber, the Mezzeritcher Maggid said a similar idea.[1]  Sometimes stray thoughts enter our minds while we are praying.  We have not invited these thoughts.  They seem to have come on their own and they have pushed us away from God, as it were.  When a person realizes that he is no longer "with God", he needs to turn back to God and pray more fervently and with more humility.  God promises that He will be with this person (allow the person to experience closeness to Him.)

[1] Likutei Amarim 69 (Kehot 5764)

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