Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 18 June 2016 / 12 Sivan 5776

Thank You for Listening

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Rabbi Moshe of Terani (“Mabit”), in his monumental work Beit Elokim, raises a fundamental question about the structure of prayer.

The three basics parts of prayer are praise, requests and thanksgiving (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 1:2). Whenever one approaches G-d he should follow this structure. The Shemoneh Esrei prayer, the central prayer of the Jewish People, also follows this structure, as we see from a passage from the Talmud:

Rabbi Chanina said: In the first three blessings one is likened to a servant who offers praise before his master. In the middle blessings he is like a servant requesting an allotment from his master. In the last three blessings he is like a servant who has received his allotment from his master (i.e., expressing thanks and gratitude and then departing) (Berachot 34a).

In the above three levels, the third one seems to raise a question. Surely the worshiper has not yet received his request, having made it only moments before. How then can he be compared to a servant who has already received his allotment from his master? What exactly is he thanking G-d for? We cannot answer that the worshiper is thanking G-d for deciding to grant his request, since he does not know what G-d has decided.

Rather, we must say that the one who prays must walk away as if his request had already been granted. Yet this too needs clarification since what if the person never receives what he asked for? Would his words of thanks have been uttered in vein?

The answer is that when one prays, he is meant to display hope that his request will be granted, but if it is not, he must accept this as well, without regret. He should be grateful for having had the opportunity to approach G-d in prayer, and knowing that G-d’s denial of his request is for the best.

Prayer is not a guaranteed method of “getting what you want”, since many times we don’t get what we want. Rather, prayer is about approaching G-d, displaying our total dependency and trust in Him to take care of our needs. Accordingly, we thank G-d, both for giving us the opportunity to approach Him, and for the love and concern we receive from Him — regardless of whether we receive our actual request.

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