IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OUR FATHERS | Avos 2-18
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OUR FATHERS
Avos Perek 2 Mishna 18
By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita
I have seen many Yidden at prayer; after all, it’s to be expected when one is a Rabbi! I have served on three continents, and in all sorts of communities. Davening is the one activity that is common to all shuls; it’s what they are created for; what their essence is about.
Some of the shuls were large and spacious with ornate windows and smart seats. Others were small rooms with old and well-worn furniture. Each had its own ambience, created not only by the building housing it, but by the Yidden in attendance. I have witnessed devotion that actually took my breath away. I often wondered where this or that seemingly simple soul learned to have such spirituality. It could be because in simplicity one can find clarity. Our world is cluttered with too much baggage, and it takes much energy to clear a space in your heart for a connection with Hashem. Davening is just the right tool to sweep away all the dross and find a path forwards.
“In this dark Golus when our prayers often seem in vain, we should continue davening and realize that our tefillos accomplish a great deal”
Prayer has always been the most challenging avodah we have; the yetzer hora seems to intrude into our thoughts just when we feel we are drawing closer to Hashem. Today’s world is blessed with enormous opportunities for learning Torah. “Back in the day”, a Yied who had learned Shas was considered a special person, held in high esteem. Boruch Hashem Daf Yomi is almost a given in many shuls, and shiurim are plentiful. Yet, when it comes to tefillah we seem to suffer from road blocks that make it almost impossible to concentrate. Talking is just the beginning; the whole experience is wrought with difficulty. People don’t seem able to hold their attention; they have to read something or look at their phones, anything but focus.
This is totally understandable, because davening stands at the highest realm of our mitzvah adherence; it’s the place where we open a conversation with Hashem, and so, the yetzer hora intervenes. If prayer wasn’t so vital, that old trouble maker would leave us alone. Tefillah is so cherished by Hashem that it is this very act that that old enemy seeks to destroy.
The Mishnah tells us:
Rebbi Shimon says: Be meticulous in reading the Shema and in prayer; when you pray, do not make your prayer a set routine, rather an entreaty for mercy and supplication before Hashem, as it is said “For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and resentful in punishment (Yoel 2:13) and do not judge yourself to be a wicked person.
Tefillah is a gift, something to be nurtured. Many of us figure that our davening is of little importance. After all we aren’t all that special, and our mitzvos are a bit dry.
The current Biala Rebbe explains “In these dark times, when the world around us seeks nothing more than the fulfillment of physical pleasures, the yetzer hora persuades us that our efforts to pray are pointless. We might as well apply the same efforts to the pursuit of pleasure, so that we can at least enjoy this world, since anyway we have no reward to expect in the World to Come (chas v’shalom). “Why waste your time with ruchnius?” the yetzer hora asks us. “Anyway, your prayers are worthless.”
The only way to counter this notion is to internalize the truth, that the prayers of every single Yied, regardless of his or her spiritual state, are very, very priceless to Hashem.
Even if a Jew has fallen to the lowest of levels, the smallest good deed that he or she might do is still extremely precious to Hashem. Such an individual’s prayers can break through the clouds of darkness.
The Beis Tefillah (by the author of Pele Yoetz) states as follows:
“The many distractions we must grapple with each day, and the difficulties of the Golus that surround us, make it almost impossible for us to concentrate in our prayers. Nonetheless, we must improve ourselves and do the best we can each day to improve our kavonoh, if not for the entire davening, then for half of it, for a small part of it, one word or even one letter, running and returning.”
The Mishnah tells us “do not make your prayer a set routine.” The Pnei Menachem ztl explains that the Hebrew word used, keva, means a finite amount. The Rebbe says: do not daven once but rather continue davening until you believe that you have accomplished something. Prayer should not be tethered to a finite state; rather it must be alive, thirsting for ever higher goals. In this dark Golus when our prayers often seem in vain, we should continue davening and realize that our tefillos accomplish a great deal.
The Lev Simcha once wrote in a letter that we should be innovative in our davening. One should feel free to express one’s innermost emotions of the heart and daily challenges.
Over the decades I have witnessed unique Yidden who really lived in their tefillos. They weren’t always great scholars, nor born of particularly illustrious parentage, yet they spoke to Hashem with simple sweetness. They didn’t allow borders to get in their way; rather they chose to realize that tefillah was a wondrous bridge that could bring Hashem into their everyday reality. Again and again they would try, word by word, sentence by sentence, at their own pace. The sign of such daveners is that they have no idea how great their prayers are.
Our young should witness such Yidden; we should teach them by example, bringing davening to life. Our generation is stumbling at so many levels; we can fall at every challenge. Our souls are broken, and in need of so much. The siddur awaits us, one page at a time, repeatedly, till we experience the pleasing rarity of calm connection with our loving Creator.