Parashath Pinhas: Some Helpful Insights Into Tefillah

This week’s parasha, Pinhas, deals in depth with the various qorbanoth (offerings) commanded to us by the Creator, may He be exalted.  Parashath Pinhas, beginning wtih Bamidhbar 28:1 and continuing to the end, stipulates the regulations, requirements, and limits of the qorbanoth to be offered in the Mishkan/Beth haMiqdhash.  In these days, when the Miqdhash is not standing, our tefilloth (prayers) officially serve as the qorbanoth (cf Hoshe’a 14:2).  From this perspective, what can we infer about prayer from this week's parasha? 

Right away, the following two items can be deduced:

1- Tefilloth are to be said at the appointed time (Bamidhbar 28:2), with an additional tefilla on Shabbath and on Yom Tov (ibid 28:9 ad loc).

2- Tefilloth should be free of blemish (ibid 28:2 ad loc).

We see from the first description of qorbanoth that there are two times at which they must be offered before the Creator, may He be exalted.  These are in the morning and at twilight (dusk) – i.e. shaharith and minha.  Both shaharith and minha are times deOraitha, as they correspond to the morning and evening qorbanoth in the Beth haMiqdhash (Bamidhbar 28:4).

We learn from Haz”l (b. Berakhoth 29b) that one who makes his tefilla (specifically speaking about the shemona asre berakhoth) a prescribed task (one that is not fixed at the appointed times), their prayer is not accepted.  Abaye b. Avin and R. Hanina b. Avin say that one who makes his prayer a “prescribed task” is one who does not pray shaharith at sunrise and minha at sunset.

There are many other conditions that can prevent prayers from being accepted as well.  We will go over a few of them later on.

We learn from Ramb”m (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Tefilla 1:7): “And so they ammended the number of prayers according to the number of qorbanoth – two prayers every day reflecting the two tamidhin... the tefilla reflecting the morning tamidh they called tefillath shaharith; and the tefilla reflecting the tamidh at twilight they called tefillath minha.”

We also read the following in the Temani midhrash, Nur al-Salam: “Another item.  And you shall worship the Lord your God (Shemoth 23:25).  They said, ‘Prayer is deOraitha (required by written Torah), and its time was fixed to correspond with the daily sacrifices.’”

Regarding this topic, the Saadia Gaon zs”l wrote how laziness can ruin the performance of this miswah:

“Now when a person is lazy and consequently makes no provision for his sustenance, clothing, and shelter, the result is that he spends the live-long day in sighing to the point where his appetites and the claims of his body literally kill him, as Scripture says: The desire of the slothful kill him for his hands refuse to labor (Prov 21:25). The consequence is that he becomes remiss in prayer and fasting and refuses to stand up or move in order to fulfill his religious duties or perform any useful task. This is the antithesis of righteousness, because the concept of laziness may also be applied to wickedness. Scripture therefore says: There is that covet greedily all the day long; but the righteous giveth and spareth not (Prov 21:26)“1

Just as the objects used in the qorbanoth must be flawless, so must our tefilloth be flawless. It is easy to understand how an object, (something which is tangible) may be flawless, but how is it possible for an abstract thing like speech and intent to be flawless?  There are two means by which we can demonstrate flawless tefilla.  One of which is diction when reciting the tefilloth, the other is the kawana, or intent, in what one is saying.  “Da lifne mi ata omadh” – know before Whom you stand.  As in the Miqdhash, when one prays, one stands in the Presence of God.  It is for this reason that one would not offer a blemished animal – a flagrant violation of Torah – in the miqdhash and why one must insure that their speech and manners are not blemished when one prays in the Beth haKenassath.

The Saadia Gaon zs”l notes insincere intention as the second condition (out of seven) that may prevent HaShem from accepting a prayer. “An illustration hereof is presented by the statement of scripture: But they beguiled Him with their mouth and lied unto Him with their tongue (Ps. 78:36).”

One must extend the dhalath in the word “ahadh” in the qeriath Shema`’; one must not confuse alef with ‘ayin; one must not turn a daghash forte into a daghash rofe and vise versa; one must leave more space btween two words if the first ends with the same letter as the second begins (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Tefilla weQeriath Shema`’). 

Perhaps explaining the ideal type of prayer, the RMb"M wrote the following in his “Guide for the Perplexed”:

 “The first thing you must begin to do is to keep your thoughts from anything else when you read the Shema` and when you pray. Do not make do with kavvana during Shema` for (just) the first verse, or for the first blessing during prayer. When you become accustomed to this and it is within hyour power for many years, then begin putting your whole heart and soul into what you hear or read every time you read the Torah. After this too is within your grasp for some time, accustom yourself to clear your mind for whatever you read from the other books of the prophets, even for all of the blessings; mean what you say in them and ascertain their significance… When these forms of worship become pure for you and you apply your thought to them when you do them, clear of any thought about worldly matters… when you are alone with no one else, and when you are awake on your bed, be very careful not to apply your thoughts to anything else but cognitive worship during those special times. Namely, to come close to G-D and stand before Him in the true way I have made known to you. (Morah 3:51)

It should be noted that the RMb"M opts for a more philosophical Prayer approach in his Guide than he does in the traditional Rabbinic approach of his Mishnah Torah. Many theories have been advanced about this. Perhaps what was written in the Guide was considered the ultimate ideal.

Nur al-Salam also has this to say regarding proper tefilla: “Shelomo haHakham ban Dawidh, alem hashalem, said that tefilla is accepted only from one who carries out the miswoth.  As he said, he who stops up his ear in order not to hear Tora – his prayer is also repugnant (Mishle 28:9)” This was also stated by the Saadia Gaon zs”l as the third of seven conditions that may cause prayers to be rejected by the Creator, blessed be He. The next condition describes one’s apathy towards the needy.  This, Saadia says, directly impacts the level of empathy that HaShem maintains towards us.

Here, it should be noted that other great thinkers like the RMb"M, Bahya and Albo thought more of prayer as “spiritual-focus training, belief correction/validation and repentance”-- as opposed to a way of influencing G-D. Although the RMb"M does speak of people (both philosophical and traditionalists) attaining greater levels hashgacha (divine Providence) based on intellectual training (shefa). However, this additional Providence is merely a non-essential bi-product of training—and not the main purpose of prayer. This is in contrast to Rabbi Yehuda haLewi, who viewed prayer as inseparable from the highest experience of G-D. 2

Morenu Yehudha haLewi instructs us regarding the proper method of tefilla (Kuzari, Seventh Gate):  “One should not pray in a mechanical way like the chattering of the raven or the parrot, but each word should be uttered thoughtfully and with full intent.  The moments of prayer should be the central part of one’s day, the heart and core of his time, while the other hours should only be considered as time for preparation.  One should look forward anxiously to the three periods of daily prayer, because during prayer he resembles the spiritual beings and is removed or elevated from mere animal existence.  These three periods of daily prayer should be the most fruitful part of his day and night.”

It is my hope that, be’azrath haShem, these few words of Torah will allow you, dear reader, to gain a little more insight about the importance, purpose and method of  tefillah.

During the amidha prayer, one must put his hands over his heart, and bow his head. I believe this says a great deal - about what we are actually doing - during prayer.

1 The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , Saadia Gaon  zs”l
2 Kavvanna, Seth Kaddish, p.136--146