Friday, August 12, 2011
VaEschanan 5632 First Ma'amar
The Midrash at the beginning of the parsha states that one who prays with intent – kavana – is guaranteed that his prayer will be accepted. This Midrash is difficult for it implies that a prayer that is uttered without intent – without kavana – is indeed a form of prayer, albeit it a degraded form, that is not accepted. Can we even consider words uttered without intent to be prayer? Is a speaker who simply mouths words but whose mind is disengaged any different than a parrot? Certainly this cannot be considered prayer at all. Then what is the meaning of this Midrash?
The Sfas Emes explains that when the Midrash refers to one who prays with intent (lit. directs his heart – כוון לבו), it is referring to one who is changed by the prayer. In Hebrew the word for prayer – להתפלל – is in the reflexive form. For prayer to be effective it must affect the one who prays. This type of prayer, the Midrash teaches us, is accepted.
This concept affords a deeper meaning of the pasuk, "כי מי גוי גדול אשר לו א-להים קרובים אליו כה' א-להינו בכל קראנו אליו/For which is the great nation that has God so close to it as God our Lord whenever we call Him (lit. in all our calling to Him.)" (Devarim 4:7) He is close to us according to the nature of our calling to Him. To the extent that we bring ourselves close to God, He reciprocates and comes close to us as Shlomo HaMelech wrote, "כמים הפנים לפנים .../As water reflects a face back to a face …" (Mishlei 27:19) This pasuk is referring metaphorically to our relationship with God.
This concept all sheds light on another Midrash in our parsha that declares that a person who says Kri'as Shema, thus mentioning God's redemption of the nation, and then immediately prays is guaranteed that his prayer is accepted. Redemption in essence is God's revelation. By mentioning redemption we are acknowledging that all is from God including our very existence as we find in Tehillim (139:16), "גלמי ראו עיניך .../Your eyes have seen my unshaped form …" We are nothing without God. Hence, we subordinate ourselves to God. In response, He draws near to us, as it were.
This second Midrash is teaching us that in order for our prayers to be heard we need to consider how we approach prayer. Before we can deign to pray, to make a request of God, we need to acknowledge that all is from Him. We need to subordinate ourselves to Him. This is the reason that before requesting that God allow him to enter the land, Moshe Rabbeinu stated God's praises. He wanted to remember and to acknowledge that God is the beginning and source of everything before making his request.
In this way, we enable our prayer to change us, to affect us as the first Midrash teaches. Then we are guaranteed that our prayer will be heard.