Daf Yomi Gittin 51
There’s a classic tale of the fellow who is driving round and round the carpark looking for a spot. In desperation, he turns his eyes heavenward and prays, “G-d, I’m running late. If you give me a parking spot, I promise to start going to shul more often.”
Suddenly, a spot opens up right up ahead. He races over before any other car can get there first. As he’s pulling in, he looks up again, “Don’t worry about it, G-d. I’ve just found one!”
Rabbah taught: Why did the Torah obligate a debtor who admits to owing part of a loan to take an oath to the creditor that he owes no more? Since we assume that a person would not act with chutzpah to the face of his creditor. Perhaps this fellow would have wanted to completely deny the claim, but did not do so, since a person would not act with chutzpah and lie straight to the face of his creditor. The truth is, he really wants to acknowledge owing the entire loan amount, and the reason he does not do so is merely to push off his creditor until he has the money to return. Therefore, the Torah requires him to swear so that he will admit to owing the entire amount.
Tosfos quotes Rashi: A person would not act with chutzpah towards someone who did him a kindness.
If a person would not act with chutzpah towards another who did him the kindness of lending him money, then how much more so, if he gave him the money or performed some other benevolent act of kindness for him. That’s what the Almighty does for us, day in day out. If we stopped for a moment and thought about all the kindnesses He does for us throughout the day, we would be unable to stop thanking Him for His benevolence!
And yet, so many people, instead of being grateful to Heaven, act with chutzpah. They expect Hashem to provide His bounty, but when He does, they are ungrateful. When things don’t go their way, they get angry with G-d; but when things do go their way, they attribute their success to their own efforts! Just like our friend driving round and round the carpark, many people turn to G-d when they are desperate, but forget Him and deny His guiding hand moments later.
What’s more, even those who turn to Hashem regularly often forget the three aspects of the davening formula. Every one of our prayers begins with praise of Hashem. We then turn to our request of Heaven. And finally, we conclude by thanking Him for providing.
We find this pattern in the general outline of our morning prayers – we start with Brachos (Blessings) and Pesukei D’Zimra (Verses of Praise) and further Brachos; we follow the praise with the Amidah, where we make our requests; and conclude with the Aleinu and Song of the Day prayers of gratitude. And even within the Amidah itself, we find the same formula of praise, request, and thanks. If you look at Mincha and Maariv, you’ll find the same formula.
And that’s the formula you need to follow even for spontaneous prayer. The fellow looking for the parking spot should have started by praising Hashem. And only then making his request. And finally when Hashem answered his prayers, he should have concluded by thanking Him. Of course when we are engaged in formal prayer, we thank Hashem immediately, expressing our faith that He has already answered our prayers!
How do you praise Hashem? Probably the easiest, most familiar prayer of praise for most people is Ashrei, chapter 145 of Tehillim. Throughout your day, each time you are about to ask Hashem for assistance, remember that the initial step is to praise Him. That means taking a minute or two to recite Ashrei. It’s not that He needs your praise. The point of our recitation of praise is to put ourselves in the right frame of mind to talk to Hashem and beseech Him for our needs.
You wouldn’t walk into the prime minister or president’s office without preparation. How much more so, when you’re about to talk to the King, King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He! You need to prepare yourself and make sure you appreciate the gravity of the moment! And once again, once you’ve offered your prayer-request, don’t forget to thank Him. A good quick Psalm for that purpose is chapter 100, Mizmor L’Todah (A Psalm of Thanks). It’s quick and easy to learn by heart.
Proper prayer consists of three parts. Think of it as “Trifold Davening.” May you merit having all your prayers answered even before you have completed uttering them!