Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Power of Prayer - Part I, Examples

Prayer, or tefillah (also commonly referred to as "davening"), is a central part of life as a Jew. It is the time for one to ask HaShem for his needs, speak to and have an audience with, the Creator of the Universe. There are many (Jewish laws) that relate to prayer which benefit the individual, providing them the wherewithal to respond appropriately to all sorts of situations that may arise during tefillah. These laws also benefit the individual by instructing one as to how to have the optimal kavanah, or concentration, during tefillah. There are three daily prayers. As the Jewish day starts with nightfall (in accordance with the Torah's description of the days of Creation as, "And it was evening, and it was morning..."), the first prayer is Ma'ariv, the next one is the morning prayer of Shacharis, and the closing prayer is Mincha. The optimal manner in which to do the prayer, in general, is with a group of ten-men (all attendees must be at least 13 years of age).


When one prays, especially with the proper kavana, blocking all foreign thoughts, that prayer is powerful. It is especially important for one to learn the meaning of what he is saying, thereby increasing the power of his prayer. We have a tradition of the power of tefillah, through historical events that have occurred where individuals have prayed and were subsequently answered as a result of that prayer.

The famous prophet, Eliyahu, was answered in the prayer of Mincha at a time when he wished to encourage a great deal of the Jewish population to abandon idolatry and return to the true service of HaShem. The "prophets" of the idol, Ba'al agreed to a public display, where either HaShem would be shown to be the True G-D, or, lehavdil, the Ba'al would be shown to be the "true" one. The deal was that the prophets of Ba'al would bring a sacrifice, if a fire descended from Heaven to consume their sacrifice, that would show that Ba'al represents the truth. If, however, Eliyahu would be answered, HaShem would be shown to be the True G-D. A fire did come down and consumed a cow that was surrounded with water. Thus Eliyahu proved that HaShem is The True G-D. However, we learn that Eliyahu first said a prayer to HaShem that he should be successful in his display to the assembled Jews. The prayer took place in the afternoon. The Rabbis teach of the great power of the tefillah of Mincha from the incident of Eliyahu.

The tefillah of Mincha was established by Yitzchak. We find in the Torah that Yitzchak went out to "speak in the field". This incident occurred immediately before his soon-to-be wife, Rivka, arrived. Another prayer answered successfully. One may claim that these individuals were exceptional, their prayers powerful. Some may go so far as to claim that these are "isolated events in history". This essay aims to show that prayer is powerful, how to enhance the power of one's tefillos, and, being that HaShem is Infinite, what is the benefit of our personal praises to HaShem.

Before continuing, tefillah has been recorded in saving the Jewish People from destruction. In this parsha of Ki Sisa, we read about the great sin of the Jewish People by taking part in the sin of the golden-calf, in one way or another. The sin was so great, that HaShem says to Moshe, "And now leave Me, and My Anger will flare up in their midst, and I shall consume them, and I shall make you into a great nation." (Shemos: 32, 10) On this pasuk, the following from Shemos Rabbah is brought by RaSH"I: "'Leave Me' - We have still not heard that Moshe prayed on their behalf, and HaShem says, 'Leave Me'? Rather, here He made an opening for him and informed him that the matter is dependant on him, that if he prays for them, they will not be destroyed." The sin of worshipping the golden-calf was great enough that was liable to be destroyed. Moshe's prayer for the Jewish People was great enough to avert that punishment. On fast-days when the Jewish People commemorate events of national tragedy, we read of Moshe's prayer and the fruits of Moshe's prayer, "And HaShem relented regarding the bad which He Spoke to do to His nation." (Shemos: 32, 14) Furthermore, in Parshas Va'Eschanan, we read of Moshe's prayer to enter Eretz Yisrael. HaShem Tells him to not pray again as HaShem would "have to" allow Moshe to enter Eretz Yisrael.


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