Parshas Eikev 5757 - '97
Outline # 48
The mitzvah of prayer is derived from verses in our parsha. Two verses mention serving Hashem with the heart (10:12 and 11:13). The Rabbis said, "What is the service of the heart? Prayer..." (See Rashi 11:13.)
The order of the prayer services should be: 1. Praise, 2. Request, 3. Thanks. (Rambam, beginning of Hilchos Tefilah.)
It is interesting that only prayer is called service (See Rashi 11:13), and not the other duties of the heart -- which, by the way, are also mentioned in this parsha -- such as the love and fear of Hashem. Also worthy of note: prayer is the service of the heart, but the Jewish concept of prayer is largely oral; that is, audible. This is because prayer is known as "calling." How is the "calling aloud" compatible with the "service of the heart?"
The following is based on the profound words of the Yismach Moshe.
Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed), part three, chapter 44 stated that the prayers are for us to remember that Hashem is in charge, and to strengthen our faith. However, the Tolaas Yaakov objected. Prayer serves a vital role for mankind...
The service with the heart concerns kavanah -- intention. The Calling Out with love and fear, is for one's needs; requesting one's needs, however, is not actually service.
Calling, however, is an essential aspect of the tefilah (prayer). The calling is directed only to Hashem, the singular, unified G-d.
(Everyone has needs; we must remember that our needs can only be answered by G-d alone. Our needs are multiple, and we become fragmented with concerns. Only by directing our "Calling Out" to the One and Only Hashem, can we effectively direct all of our strengths towards the One. The Calling Out thus serves to unify the heart of man, as indeed we say in the prayers: "Unify our hearts to love and fear you..." [Morning Service, Birchos Shema.] This is what the Rambam meant, that the prayers are for us to remember that Hashem is in charge, and to strengthen our faith.)
This is not the service, however; the service is with the heart.
"'Service' is only `assistance'; `assistance' is only a help..." (Yismach Moshe).
Thus, there are two aspects of the tefilah (prayer). 1. The praise and thanks is the service, which makes it easier for Hashem to help us. 2. The request for one's needs serves to unify our hearts in faith.
Av to Elul: Anger Turns to Favor
Moshe was on Mount Sinai forty days and nights; the Jews make the Golden Calf, and he had to return to the mountain. Before he returned, he prayed that the Jews be forgiven.
Twice in this parsha, Rashi mentions that the first forty days and the last forty days were times of favor; the middle period was a time of anger (Rashi 9:18 and 10:10). The period of anger corresponds exactly to the time when this parsha is read, shortly before the month of Elul... It is precisely during the period of anger that our prayers can truly make the difference.
The parsha opens with several blessings. "You shall not have a barren man or woman..." (7:14) Rashi adds the explanation: " 'Barren' -- unable to deliver children." What has Rashi added to our understanding of the text?
See Yismach Moshe, who explained in the name of the Maharsha: Since the Matriarchs had been barren, how can this be considered a curse? To answer this, Rashi tells us that the barrenness of the matriarchs was altogether different. Their barrenness was temporary; it was bashert -- sent from heaven -- because Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous.
The difference between the curse and the blessing can be so slight! The barren woman believes she is cursed, but may indeed have the great blessing of the matriarchs...
Similarly, the period of anger can really be the turning point. It was, of course, during these days that Moshe prayed for the people to be forgiven, and was taught the thirteen attributes of mercy, which are repeatedly recited during the slichos of Elul and on the Yom Kippur services....
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
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Text Copyright © '97 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.
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Last Revision: January 27, '97