In the first part of the power of prayer and its
application to teshuvoh, HaRav Schwadron cited
numerous applications in which we see the tremendous power of
tefilloh. The Rambam explains that one who sins very
much may reach a point at which a Heavenly decree will not
allow him to repent, so that he will die with his sin.
However even this decree, says the Rambam is subject to
repeal through the power of prayer, since it is no stronger
than any other decree which can be modified or annulled
through prayer. An historical example of this was the
incident involving Eliyohu on Mount Carmel, where the people
repented after Eliyohu prayed for them to repent. R' Sholom
explains that the people were really beyond the stage at
which they normally could repent, which is evident since
there were previous occurrences that should have made them
repent. Yet they did repent after the prayer of Eliyohu.
Also, R' Sholom brings a medrash that says clearly
that whether a person prays wholeheartedly can make the
difference between life and death for him.
Kavonoh Required for Tefilloh
"In Givon, Hashem appeared to Shlomo in a dream by night; and
Hashem said, `Ask what I shall give you.' And Shlomo said, `.
. . give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your
people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is
able to judge Your great people?' And the speech pleased
Hashem, that Shlomo had asked this thing. And Hashem said to
him, `Because you have asked this thing . . . behold, I have
done according to your word . . . I have also given you that
which you have not asked, both riches and honor . . .'
(Melochim I, chapter 3)."
We have to understand why Hashem was so pleased with Shlomo
for asking only to be given an understanding heart to judge
the people that because of his request he was also rewarded
with riches, honor and long life, as outlined in the
pesukim. Would we have acted any differently?
Would a person who has been invited by the king into his
storehouse and treasury and told to take whatever he wants,
leave all the silver and gold there, and look for stones and
Le'aniyus da'ati, I think that if we would stop a
person on a weekday and ask him what is the main thing that
he wants, he would certainly reply that the main thing he
wants is Torah and yiras Shomayim. But is this really
his sole desire? Is this enough for him? Or does he, in
addition to Torah and yiras Shomayim, also want money
. . . and honor . . . and a long life . . . and all other
Olom Hazeh-related matters?
Even if a person does not say this, everything is revealed to
HaKodosh Boruch Hu, and if his heart contains even the
slightest longing for wealth or something else, it is
considered as if he had "asked for riches," because the
innermost desire cries out, "I want! I want!"
Shlomo Hamelech on the other hand, in replying to Hashem that
he wants only an "understanding heart," had no craving for
anything related to Olom Hazeh, such as riches, honor,
long life or victory over his enemies. His only wish was for
an "understanding heart" — nothing more! This indeed
signified that he had attained a wonderful spiritual
This should convey to us an awe-inspiring message. When we
stand and beseech the Creator of the world for
ruchniyus, and our prayers remain unanswered, we
develop a grievance: Why were we not answered? Didn't we ask
for it? Didn't we ask for our hearts to be filled with
"discernment to understand and become wise"? Why, then,
doesn't Hashem give it to us?
However, if we were to be honest with ourselves, we would
realize that while we may be shouting, "Let our hearts be
filled with discernment," the inner recesses of our heart are
shouting, "Give us silver and gold!" And it is this inner cry
which is heard so well in Shomayim!
What is our real intention in our prayers and requests?
A simple baal habayis once went to the Kotsker Rebbe
to ask his advice whether his daughter should undergo an
operation. The Rebbe told him that he did not think it was
worthwhile. The visitor was not deterred, and started to tell
the Rebbe that his daughter was smart, and she thought it
would be good for her to have this operation, and what should
he do? The Rebbe replied that this was of no consequence.
Again, the visitor argued that his daughter, in addition to
her wisdom, also had some medical knowledge . . . the Rebbe
gave the same reply.
This interchange went on for a while, the visitor insisting
that he was right and the Rebbe giving the same response.
Eventually, the visitor realized that the Rebbe was not to be
moved from his initial opinion, and was about to leave. The
Rebbe asked him, "Nu . . . will you take my advice?"
The visitor replied, "I will see. I'll have to think about
it." That was how they parted.
The Rebbetzin, who had overheard the whole conversation, was
amazed. She went into the room and said to the Rebbe, "Your
chassidim are great people who come from faraway places just
to receive your greeting. They wait for several hours and
even then only get to see you for a few moments. Yet here,
you had a lengthy conversation with a simple baalabos,
consisting of pointless arguments! Why?"
The Rebbe answered her, "Why are you surprised? After all,
everything this man said is true. He has a sick daughter
— that's true. He thinks that she has to be operated on
— that's also true. He has a smart daughter — he
thinks that to be true and therefore he argued with me. Why
should I be upset with someone who speaks only the truth?
"The chassidim that come to see me, on the other hand, want
me to believe that their only request is for yiras
Shomayim — whereas the truth is that they want
money, health and parnossoh . . . that is why a few
moments are sufficient for them."
In Shomayim Only Words of Truth are Heard
This incident can help us understand why our prayers remain
unanswered. In the tefilloh for the Yomim
Noraim we say, "For You are a G-d of truth, and Your
words are truth." In other words, in Heaven only words of
truth are heard.
Let us picture a man standing in prayer, knowing that he has
nothing to go home to, that he has nothing to feed himself
with, or that he is suffering from something choliloh.
He wraps himself up in his tallis, lowers his head to
the ground, and davens with great kavonoh,
tears streaming down his face. Nu . . . for such a person,
everything revolves around money! Ato kodosh —
money, Tein Pachdecho — money, Vesimloch
— money, money and more money! Is this truth? Small
wonder then that in the end he gets no money either.
How appropriate in this context is the incident of the
chossid who came with a complaint to the Ruzhiner
zt"l. It is written, he said, that it is a
seguloh for wealth to pray for parnossoh during
kedushoh of the Yomim Noraim, and yet he has
done this for several years, to no avail . . . he was still
as poor as ever.
The Rebbe answered him, "This is a genuine seguloh.
But it is only effective for someone who only thinks about
parnossoh during kedushoh, but not during the
remainder of the tefilloh. With you, however, the
whole tefilloh revolves around money and more
Neglect of Tefilloh
It says in the gemora (Brochos 6b), "One of the
scholars said to Rav Bibi bar Abaye (some say Rav Bibi said
to Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok), What is the meaning of, `When
vileness is exalted among the sons of men' (Tehillim
12:9)? He replied to him, `These are the things of supreme
importance which nevertheless people neglect.' On "things of
supreme importance" Rashi says, "For example, prayer, which
In what sense do people neglect prayer?
The Dubner Maggid's explanation of the posuk, "Take
with you words, and return unto Hashem" (Hoshea 14:3)
sheds light on this gemora. He points out that when we
pray, we stand swaying to and fro, with our eyes closed,
asking with great kavonoh, "Give our hearts
discernment to understand and become wise etc." (the
brochoh of Ahavoh Rabboh) and we really mean
this with all our hearts, as we say it. However, as soon as
we leave shul, we immediately forget everything.
This is what the novi is referring to: "Take with you
words!" Those same words you uttered just a moment ago
— take them with you during the day, and put them into
Is this not showing contempt for tefilloh? Each time
we pray, we spend a good hour asking Hashem for wisdom and
discernment, swaying so hard that our level of
deveikus transports us to the seventh heaven, and we
almost become angelic.
After davening, we go to eat. How do we eat? What is
our bentching like? All at once, we are transferred
from Heaven straight to the fleshpot!
We end up taking things of supreme importance, making awesome
requests, and instead of taking the things with us and making
use of what we asked for, we immediately revert to our
To Whom Do We Address Our Prayers?
Chazal say, "When Rabbi Akiva read Shir Hashirim,
there would be tears streaming down his face, because he knew
who these words were addressed to." What does that last
If somebody sends a telegram or letter to a king, he knows
that his message will reach the palace and maybe even the
king himself. He will surely choose every word he uses very
carefully, knowing who will be the recipient . . . the
So too, Rabbi Akiva, when reading Shir Hashirim, had
internalized completely who was the recipient of his words:
Melech Malchei Hamelochim HaKodosh Boruch Hu. That is
why he had tears streaming down his face.
During every tefilloh we talk to the King of kings,
especially on Rosh Hashonoh, the special day on which we
coronate the King. The peak is reached during Musaf,
when we recite the pesukim of Malchuyos, about
which the gemora in Rosh Hashonoh (34b) says,
"Hashem proclaimed, `Recite before Me Malchuyos
[pesukim], to declare Me King over you.' " In other
words, we are not making Hashem sovereign over ourselves, as
is the case in Krias Shema when we accept on ourselves
ol malchus Shomayim. Rather we are crowning the King
in His presence, as it says, "Recite before Me
How much more so must we pay careful attention to every word
that we utter during the prayer before the King on the day of
His coronation, at a time of "recite before Me."
Unto You Does All flesh Come
In the Selichos we say, "Oh You, Who hears prayer,
unto you does all flesh come."
I heard the following explanation of this posuk from
adoni mori verabi HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman
zt"l. When we get up early to go to selichos,
it would be the proper thing for us to leave our bodies at
home and come to shul with only our souls, full of
In reality, however, some people do the opposite. They leave
their soul asleep at home, taking only a lump of flesh with
them to shul: "Unto you does all flesh come!"