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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Stop uttering Vacuum Prayers!

Daf Yomi Sanhedrin 91

A heretic once approached Rabbi Akiva and asked him, “Who created this world?”
Rabbi Akiva replied, “The Holy One, blessed be He.”
So the heretic said, “Show me a clear proof.”
Rabbi Akiva responded, "Come back here tomorrow."

The next day the heretic returned and Rabbi Akiva inquired, “What are you wearing?”
The man replied, “A suit.”
Rabbi Akiva asked him, “Who made the suit?”
The man said, “A weaver.”
Rabbi Akiva answered, “I don't believe you. Show me a clear proof.”
The heretic replied, “What can I show you?  Don't you realize that a weaver made it?”
Rabbi Akiva answered, “And don't you know that the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world?”

When the heretic left, Rabbi Akiva’s students asked him, “What's the clear proof?”
He answered them, “My sons, just as a house indicates that there's a builder, and a suit indicates that there's a weaver, and a door that there's a carpenter, so the world indicates that there is a Creator, the Holy One, blessed be He.”

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught: Where in Scripture do we find a source for the Resurrection of the Dead?  For it says, “Happy are those who dwell in Your house, they shall praise You further, forever.”  It does not state ‘they have praised You,’ but “they shall praise You.”  From here we see a proof for the Resurrection of the Dead in Scripture. And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Anyone who chants praise to Hashem in this world will merit to chant in the World to Come, as it says, “Happy are those who dwell in Your house, they shall praise You further, forever.”

When we pray to G-d, there are three elements: praise, request, and thanks.  We begin our daily prayers by praising the Almighty.  It’s akin to buttering up your boss before you ask him for a raise.  Now, does G-d really need us to butter Him up?  Of course not.  But our Sages instituted the praise part to get us in the mood.  After all, how we can we roll straight into the ask when we haven’t even figured out Who we are addressing?

Once we have praised Hashem, we then proceed to request our needs and wants.  And then finally, we conclude by offering Him thanks for providing our every need.  That’s the correct formula for successful prayer. 

But how many of us go through the three step process?  How often do you find yourself uttering a silent prayer to Heaven in a vacuum?  Maybe your loved one has just gone into surgery.  Maybe you’re hoping a business deal will go through.  Maybe you’re about to sit a big exam.

Sure, G-d listens to all prayers.  But it’s what we call a vacuum prayer, because you’ve forgotten part one, the praise element.  If you really want to make your prayer most effective, you need the complete formula: praise, followed by request, followed by thanks.  

One prayer of praise that I love is Borchi Nafshi, Tehillim (Psalms) chapter 104.  It’s a little long, but I know it’s worth the investment.  If I’m really short on time, I’ll go with chapter 150.  Tehillim has some really good ‘praise’ material.  Find one that works for you!  And if you don’t have a Tehillim handy, go ahead and be creative – invent your own prayer of praise to G-d!

It’s really easy to find things to praise Him for.  Just look at the world around you.  Like Rabbi Akiva told his students, if simple items of clothing require a weaver, then the complex world we live in must have a Creator.  When you consider how intricate and detailed this world is and how perfectly everything fits together, you’re bound to burst out in song and praise for the Almighty!

Many people ask Hashem for things.  But it’s the select few that remember to praise Him first.  And that’s why Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches that they’re the ones who will get to be there in the eternal choir, singing along the capital-C Chazan in the World to Come!

How many times a day do you stop to praise Hashem?  May you stop to smell the roses and merit joining the Heavenly chorus for now and forever!