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If God Knows All, Why Do We Pray?
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Imagine you’ve got this fellow, his business is following apart. So, he turns to HaShem and he says, “Please, HaShem, my business is going bankrupt. I have seven children. And please, save my business, and if not for me, please have at least compassion for my children.” If HaShem would respond to this fellow, what would HaShem say?
Well, I think HaShem would say, “I run the world. Everything that happens, I do. And everything I do is for absolute goodness. So, I don’t know why you are telling me that your business is falling apart, because I am making it falling apart. I don’t know why you are asking me to stop that, because everything I do is in your best interest. And, quite frankly there was a little challenge by the comment you made about your kids. And, being compassionate almost implies that you are more compassionate towards your children than I am. Just want to remind you, I am the source of all compassion.” I am struggling here…what exactly are you doing? But, what will Shulami then say? I think Shulami will say, “well, is there anybody else up there I can talk to?”
You see, the fundamental principle of faith is that HaShem runs the world; that everything He does is in our best interest. If that’s the case, what is the point of praying? Because, prayer means to try to get God to change His mind! But, what will it mean that God will change His mind?
I change my mind because I get new information. If I am on my way to a Chinese restaurant and I meet a friend on the way who tells me that that restaurant just lost its Kashrut Supervision, then I change my mind. But, what would it mean for an Omniscient being to get new information? And what will it mean for God who transcends time to change? Change only happens in time, but God transcends time.
That is why Jews don’t pray. Because to pray actually comes from the Latin word which means to beg, and it basically means that I am trying to get God to want what I want, to change His mind and to want what is on my mind. Well, we don’t pray, but what we do is we are l'hit'palel. And the first thing you need to know about l'hit'palel is that it’s reflexive, meaning whatever the verbs means, it is something I am doing to myself; I am not trying to change God when I hit'palel, I am trying to change myself.
When I’m engaged in Tefilah, it’s not so much communication for the sake of trying to transmit information to God and get him to change, but rather a personal transformation. When I am l'hit'palel, I want to hear myself saying this to God in the very act of me saying this to God. It is going to affect me. It is going to change me. So, I am trying to palel myself.
And, what is the word palel mean? Well, if we go into the Torah, we find a beautiful story where Joseph approaches his father Jacobs, brings his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and asks his father to bless his children. Now, you probably recall what a challenging story this must of all being for Jacob. So many years he taught Joseph was dead. And yet, he reunites with his son and here in this very emotional moment, he is nearing his last days, and he is about to bless his grand children of the son that he thought he no long had.
In Genesis chapter 48, Jacob says to Joseph, reoh faneicha lo pilalti v’hineh herah oti Elokim gam et-zarecha. “I never pilalti that I would have ever seen your face, and yet HaShem has graced me to see the face of even your children.” What it is the word palel mean? Well, if you look in Rashi, Rashi says, lo maleni lebi lachshov machshevah, “I never filled my heart to think the thoughts that I’d ever see your face again.” Rashi is teaching us that the word palel means to fill my heart, to think those thoughts, to anticipate, to dream the dreams of what could be. And that’s what l'hit'palel is. l'hit'palel is in extra size; where we are able to fill our hearts, to envision what can be.
In fact, when you think of it, the leader of the Tefilah is referred to as the Hazzan. And the word Hazzan, although translated as a cantor, actually comes from the word Hazzon - vision. What connection could possibly be between the leader of the Tefilah and vision? Well, that’s the point. The point is that when we gather together for Tefilah, we are engaged in an exercise of visionary thinking, we are filling our hearts to think of what can be.
What’s it then, why are we saying this to God? Tefilah is not about getting God to want what we want, but it’s about getting us to want what God wants. In the Tefilah, it’s recorded by our Sages an incredible condense version of the vision that God has for us, for the Jewish people, and the world.
When we are l'hit'palel, we are filling ourselves up with what HaShem envisions for us. And when we do that, rather than trying to change HaShem’s will, we are channeling HaShem’s will through our own will.
So, to sum it up, prayer is about trying to get God to change His mind and trying to get God to want what we want, whereby Tefilah, the hit’palel is something I am doing to myself. And what am I doing to myself? I am trying to get neither what God wants; I am trying to change my mind. And the more I change my mind, the more I want what HaShem wants, and the more will HaShem wants can come in to this world.
And how that works, we will explore in the next clip.
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