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9 Tammuz 5766 - July 5, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Meaningful Prayer (part 14)

by Dovid Leitner

Adon Olom (Part 4)

In a previous article we described how the first part of Adon Olom incorporates the meanings of the various Names of Hashem. This is said at the onset of our tefillos, as suggested by the Apter Rov in keeping with the Vilna Gaon, so as to act as an initial declaration of our correct intentions whenever we pronounce His Name in our subsequent tefillos.

The posuk (Devorim 8:11) states: "Hishomer lecho pen tishkach es Hashem . . . " Take care lest you forget Hashem. The amazing fact about this phrase is that the first letters of the first four words — Hishomer Lecho Pen Tishkach — spell out the word tefilloh.

How can one forget Hashem during tefilloh, when one is actually standing before Him in prayer?

Hashem's Name is in fact the most-frequently-pronounced word in our tefillos, but how often are we aware that we are even pronouncing it? His Name, together with the rest of tefilloh, often simply slips out of our mouths, totally unnoticed.

The Chayei Odom (Klal 5) brings a frightening story that demonstrates the importance of concentrating while pronouncing His Name. We need to appreciate that the Chayei Odom was written as a guide in halochoh, and not as a storybook. The purpose of this story is therefore to help us understand the severity of this issue, and to encourage us to take positive steps in order to avoid this transgression.

He writes that one of the great rabbonim in his generation fell asleep, and dreamed that he heard a loud proclamation in the Heavenly Court: "Make room for this great tzaddik that has just died," and he was subsequently welcomed with great honor. This tzaddik was given a sefer Torah to hold, and asked if he had kept all that it contained, to which he replied in the affirmative. He was asked to bring witnesses, at which a multitude of angels came to testify in his favor.

He was them given the complete set of Tur and asked to confirm that he had kept the Oral Torah too. Again he confirmed that he had kept it entirely, and a multitude of angels came to verify his statement.

He was then asked if he was careful not to pronounce Hashem's Name in vain, but he remained silent and was unable to answer. This question was posed a second time, but resulted in the same silence. Witnesses were called, and a large multitude of angels, all dressed in black, came as prosecutors, each one specifying the exact date, time and tefilloh where His Name was pronounced without suitable concentration. He was then asked how it was possible for a human being to have the audacity to pronounce His Name without even thinking what he was saying.

The final judgment was that this tzaddik was given a choice of either returning as a gilgul to this world or of serving his time in Gehennom. This great tzaddik surely did not pronounce His Name in vain, but had said them during the course of his daily tefillos and brochos. Unfortunately he did so without sufficient concentration on what he was saying, and this caused his downfall.

The Chayei Odom brings this story in order to make us aware of the severity of pronouncing His Name without the required concentration, so that we should not fall into a similar trap. If this could happen to a big tzaddik, then what are we to do?

The Torah tells us (Bereishis 28:12) how Yaakov came to pray on the same spot that his parents and grandparents had previously prayed and subsequently fell asleep on the Har Habayis. He dreamt that he saw a ladder on the ground with its top reaching heavenward, on which angels ascended and descended. When he awoke, he realized that he had rested on a spot that he described as the `Gates of Heaven' through which all prayers ascend upwards to Hashem.

Prayer does not ascend on an escalator, where it stands on the bottom step and is taken automatically upwards. Rather prayer goes up a ladder where every step upwards requires a new and exerted effort.

The Baal Haturim explains that a ladder is made from two long poles that represent the articulated words of tefilloh, while the rungs that help us climb to new heights represent the concentration on the actual words of davening. Without any suitable thoughts, one remains on ground level irrespective as to how many pages one has "davened."

The most important word that requires concentration during davening and the reciting of brochos, is the pronouncing of Hashem's Name. This is Step Number One.

The Vilna Gaon has made it easier for us in that he requires us only to think of Hashem as being the Adon Hakol as expressed in the first two words of Adon Olom.

We mention His Name over two hundred times in Shacharis alone, so it is important to train ourselves so that every time we mention His Name, we should stop for half-a- second and think Adon Hakol.

This first step, like all initial steps one takes in life, is a difficult but rewarding one. It might take weeks until one can accomplish this initial concentration when reciting every Name of Hashem, but it is important to persevere.

The Manchester Rosh Hayeshiva Rabbi Y. Z. Segal zt"l always suggested that a person must set himself goals that can be easily accomplished. He suggested that initially one tries to think about His Name in the first brochoh of Shemoneh Esrei. When he has become accustomed to this, he should add a few more brochos, until eventually he can manage to concentrate on all the Names mentioned in Shemoneh Esrei.

You then continue to climb the ladder, at your own individual pace, concentrating on additional brochos periodically. Eventually you will manage to achieve the complete Shacharis. Every time you mention His Name, you will think of Him as being the Adon Hakol.

It is by concentrating on the meaning of His Name every time we pronounce it that we will be able to succeed in adhering to the command of, "Hishomer lecho pen tishkach es Hashem," during our tefillos, thereby climbing the ladder that takes our tefillos heavenward, and guaranteeing that all our tefillos are answered.

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