Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 5 April 2014 / 5 Nisan 5774

Doing Teshuvah Before One Prays

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“G-d open my lips, and my mouth will relate Your praises.” (Psalms)

The Rabbis explain that it is very important for one to think about repentence (teshuvah) before praying. This means regretting his past wrong deeds and resolving never to repeat the. For how can a person stand before his Maker with a request for mercy while he is filled with sin? This can be compared to a boy who has just misbehaved, asking what he will be getting for a present.

In particular, a person should do teshuvah for sins he committed through speech, asking himself, “How can I stand before G-d and praise Him with the same mouth that I use to speak “lashon hara” negatively about others?”

In this context, the phrase “G-d, open my lips” can be understood to mean that from now on I want the opening of my lips to be the result of contemplating G-d’s greatness, and realizing that He hears all my words. With this in mind a person will then open his lips only in praise of G-d, and all his words will be pleasing to Him. This idea is implied in the conclusion of the verse, “and my mouth will praise (only) You.”

Bearing this thought in mind throughout the day will help one to always look to glorify G-d’s name in all his dealings, and surely his words will be in accordance with Jewish law, never causing anyone harm.

By putting these thoughts into practice, a person will fulfill the deeper meaning of the verse, “All that is called by My name and for My glory….” (Isaiah 43:7). In other words, one should seek to utilize all things in the world in order to praise the name of G-d and bring Him added glory.

There is another benefit to repenting before one begins asking G-d for his needs. It is well known that G-d rewards those that go in His ways and punishes those that rebel against Him. Thus, as a result of one’s sins G-d may withhold a person’s request, or even decide to punish him. When one repents from his negative ways his past sins will no longer cause his requests to be rejected.

Based on the above, the commentators answer a fundamental question regarding one of the great philosophic difficulties of prayer. If G-d decided not to grant a person a particular thing, how can praying for it make a difference? The answer is that by doing teshuvah, and turning to G-d in prayer, a person changes and is considered a different person. As a new person he may be granted his request since G-d’s prior decision was regarding someone else.

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