CONTENTS AT A GLANCE
G-D'S LOVE FOR JEWRY
EXPRESSED IN SHUL
THE SANCTUARY: MODEL FOR
THE SHUL AND THE JEW'S PERSONAL HOLINESS
THE HOLINESS OF SHUL
DERECH ERETZ IN SHUL
THE IMPORTANCE OF
KEEPING PEACE AT ALL TIMES
THE JEW'S LOVE FOR G-D
EXPRESSED IN SHUL
THE JEW'S LOVE FOR MAN
EXPRESSED IN SHUL
THE HOLINESS OF PRAYER
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYING
WITH A MINYAN
PREPARATION FOR PRAYER
EACH NUSACH [KOSHER TEXT
VARIANT] AND TORAH TRADITION IS HOLY
WHEN WE KEEP IN MIND G-D'S
PURPOSES, HE KEEPS IN MIND OURS
THE SHUL IS ONLY FOR
G-D'S PURPOSES, NOT PERSONAL PURPOSES
OBTAINING BLESSING FROM
G-D'S LOVE FOR JEWRY
EXPRESSED IN SHUL
"You are children to G-d...you are a
holy people to the L-rd your G-d and He has chosen you to be His own people from all of
the nations that are on the earth" [Deuteronomy 14:1-2].
A king had a daughter whom he loved very
much. When she was small, he showered his love upon her freely. When she became more
mature, it was no longer appropriate for him to show affection towards her in public. So,
he built a special chamber for her and, in there, discussed the secrets of his kingdom.
Then, the king was able to show his love for his daughter appropriately.
This is an analogy to G-d's commanding the
building of the sanctuary. G-d is the king and the child whom He loves is the Jewish
people. G-d showered them with love when, as a people, they were young. The Jewish people
were taken out of Egypt, saw miracles and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Then, they
became more mature. It was no longer appropriate for G-d to show His love publicly. He
commanded the building of the sanctuary [which later became the Holy Temple in Jerusalem,
which later was destroyed and was replaced by local synagogues wherever there are ten or
more adult Jews]. In the sanctuary, G-d, the ultimate King, still engages in His fatherly
love with his beloved child, the people Israel [Me'am Loez, Parashas Truma].
Let us examine how holy and important the
shul is, how that holiness can and should impact us and how shul is where a Jew and G-d
give their love to one another.
THE SANCTUARY: MODEL FOR
THE SHUL AND THE JEW'S PERSONAL HOLINESS
The Torah commands us to build a sanctuary,
at the beginning of Parashas Truma. G-d said, "And they shall make for Me a mikdosh
[sanctuary] and I will dwell within them. According to everything that I will show you,
the form of the mishkon [dwelling] and the form of all of its implements, and this way you
shall make it [Exodus 25:8-9]."
First and foremost, keep in mind that this
is Hashem talking! He said, "Make for ME." The sanctuary is for Him, His name,
His divine presence, His glorification and His service. The sanctuary has a very exalted
purpose. This is an underlying foundation and purpose from the start.
When the Torah tells us, to build a
sanctuary, its language is, "And they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell
within them [Exodus 25:8]."
The Talmud's famous question is: why does
the Torah say "WITHIN THEM?" Isn't Hashem saying that, when the Jewish people
build for Him a sanctuary, that He will dwell "WITHIN IT?" The beginning of the
verse speaks in the singular [sanctuary] and the end of the verse is plural [them]. Isn't
the language in the verse inconsistent? Shouldn't the Torah say "dwell within
The answer is that the Torah wants the
sanctuary to be a model of holiness to be followed by every Jew. The sanctuary is a means,
not an end itself. Each Jew must make himself a sanctuary! Every part of the sanctuary
described in the Torah represents a trait or aspect of holiness that can - and should - be
a part of each Jew. The point of the Torah's commandments and descriptions regarding the
sanctuary is for us to learn from and internalize them! The point is to use the model of
the sanctuary and the lessons to be obtained by in-depth study of the sanctuary TO ENABLE
EACH JEW TO MAKE HIMSELF A HOLY SANCTUARY WITHIN WHOM G-D CAN DWELL!
Therefore, there is profound and important
meaning in the SEEMING grammar "mistake" or "inconsistency" when the
Torah switches from singular language [at the beginning of the verse] to the plural [at
the end of the verse]. It is very important, intentional and purposeful. It is the Torah's
concise way of speaking, telling us to make ourselves holy so that Hashem can dwell within
every Jew, "within them," within each of them.
By deeply studying the building of the
sanctuary, we learn how to spiritually "build," to develop and perfect
The sanctuary had to be built to very
specific, detailed and difficult instructions. The materials and measurements had to be
exacting and precise. The instruction for building the menora was so difficult that Moshe
could not comprehend what it was to look like. The Torah says that Moshe was commanded
"You will make" the menorah (Vi'oseeso) and, in the same sentence [Exodus
25:31], Moshe was told "and it will be made (Tay'oseh)," a seeming redundancy.
One of my rovs, Rabbi Avrohom Asher Zimmerman, z'l, said that we learn from this that the
menorah was actually impossible for a human to comprehend or make. We are commanded to DO
ALL THAT WE CAN TO ACHIEVE SPIRITUAL GOALS. By acting to the extent of our powers, with
sincere, total and devoted effort, we will merit that G-d will bring our work to success
The Torah says (Numbers 8:4) of the
menorah, "It is like the way Hashem showed Moshe, that is how he made the
menora." Rashi says on this, bringing a midrash, that the menora was made through
Hashem by itself.
Similarly, the gemora in tractate
"Megila" says that if one genuinely toils in a spiritual endeavor, it can be
believed that he will find the result. In Parshas Pikuday, all of the parts of the Mishkan
were completed but the people could not set it up. It was too heavy. It took miraculous
aid from G-d, which was merited due to each Jew putting his complete heart into the work.
The Jew has to use the sanctuary and all of
the components that are in it as a model. The main importance is not in the wood and metal
and structure and vessels of the sanctuary itself. The main goal is that every Jew purify
and sanctify himself, be spiritual and holy, do mitzvos and be loyal to G-d, and to be
engaged in nonstop spiritual elevation, so that Hashem will dwell among each of the Jews.
So, in the same way that the sanctuary was
composed of various elements, and had various implements that were part of its contents,
and these had to be sanctified and holy for Hashem to dwell there; likewise, each Jew is
composed of different elements: different midos [character traits] and different body
parts that are the implements and elements that have to be exalted, spiritual and
elevated, and used for service of G-d, so that they can be holy and a place in which G-d
We Jewish people have a commandment to be
holy. It is not "merely a nice ideal." Being holy, and elevating everything we
do, is a Jewish imperative. The Torah says [Leviticus 19:2], "You shall be holy
because I am holy, the L-rd your G-d." It is an actual commandment in the Torah for
each Jew to be holy.
The Zohar tells us that Israel, the Torah
and G-d are all one. There is something similar to this in the purpose of the sanctuary.
Sanctuary [mikdosh] is from the same root
word [kuf, dalet, shin] as holy [kadosh]. We are commanded to be holy BECAUSE HASHEM IS
HOLY. It is as if there are three parts [G-d, the sanctuary and the Jew] of one great
entity, and each part has to be holy and attached to the other. When attached, the main
place where the divine presence would rest is inside the Jew; not the sanctuary's wood,
metal or implements. These are secondary to the heart and soul of each Jew being holy, for
Hashem to dwell within them.
The reason that the physical building was
commanded to be built was to motivate the people spiritually; and to provide a model for
constantly building spiritual traits such as love and fear of G-d, humility, devotion,
discipline, zeal, perseverance, purity, holiness, peace and the setting of highest
When a person entered the sanctuary, or
later the holy Temple, OR A SYNAGOGUE - WHICH IS A MINIATURE VERSION OF THE SANCTUARY OR
HOLY TEMPLE - that act, in and of itself, is not sufficient. The synagogue building,
remember, is made of wood and metal and stone. Even with its being holy, the building
itself is lifeless. It is not itself an end. It is not so much itself of intrinsic value
relative to it being a means for the Jew, to whom it is directed, achieving holiness and
The main thing is the people who are in the
building, who must be immersed in holiness, who must be connected to the divine presence
and who must be committed to absolute service of G-d. People in shul must be sanctifying
their heart and soul while standing with reverence for Hashem, not doing anything that
violates His will and living with a holy spiritual orientation "across the
board" in all facets of "real life."
The structure is called a sanctuary but it
does not depend on the lumber or metal that it is made from. It depends upon the hearts,
behavior, spirituality and holiness of the people who congregate in this building. The
goal is to direct people's consciousness, behavior and midos towards Hashem.
In shul, the person is in a holy place
where the divine presence dwells. He has to have awe and reverence and has to behave,
correspondingly, in a holy manner. He does not engage in idle or secular chatter, he does
not make jokes, he does not scoff, he does not engage in personal business nor talk about
worldly matters. There is no lightheadedness, laughing, arguing, drunkenness or
disparaging talk against anyone. This way, the people themselves make themselves into a
sanctuary. They fulfill Hashem's command to "Make for Me a sanctuary that I dwell
Remember, in the next verse, the Torah
says, "This is the way you shall make it." This tells us that we are commanded
to work on ourselves to make ourselves into a sanctuary, accomplishing this by purifying
our hearts and souls, making ourselves holy. If any of the furnishings or any of the
implements of the sanctuary were lost in subsequent generations, they must be re-made
according to the form that we were shown, when commanded by Hashem through Moshe; so that
there would be no changes in the form, dimensions or content of the sanctuary.
This also signals to us that in all future
generations, the commandment for making this holy place is an inspiration, guide and
obligation for elevation within ourselves. "This is the way you shall make it."
Through our behavior, we make shul a holy entity. We are to view the shul as a place where
the divine presence dwells and as a model for making ourselves holy. This is a commandment
incumbent upon us.
This is such a strong and central issue
that the Torah empowers the community to force all of its members to participate in the
building of the synagogue. Similarly, the community has the obligation to purchase Torah
scrolls, prayer books and other necessities for a synagogue. Among the highest priorities
for a new community are a mikva, synagogue and a school for learning Torah.
Therefore, Hashem told the Jews that we
must build a sanctuary [mikdosh]. The shul is called a "miniature sanctuary [mikdosh
mi'at]." This teaches us that in every generation there is an obligation to build
synagogues where there are Jewish communities with ten or more Jews over the age of bar
Shul is a "model" for holiness
that must be internalized and applied throughout life, at every moment and in every
situation. Shul is a significant part of the Jew achieving his personal potential as an
individual, achieving personal holiness and fulfilling the mission for which G-d created
him as a unique human being alive on earth.
Every Jew must conduct himself at all times
in accordance with holiness, by separating himself from sins and physical excesses, by
going beyond the strict or technical letter of the law, by constantly elevating his
spiritual level, by behaving in ways that are commendable and honorable to all other
people, by treating people with kindness and respect, by being pleasant and sweet in
disposition, by doing tshuva [repentance, correction] regularly for deeds and
shortcomings, by maintaining peace with others at all times and by sanctifying himself in
all which is permissible to him. The obligation to be holy has ramifications in all
aspects of life. The halachic obligation for the Jew to be holy is brought in the Shulchan
Aruch [Code Of Jewish Law, in the laws of Yom Tov].
THE HOLINESS OF SHUL
In Parashas Truma, the Torah tells us that
Hashem commanded Moshe to have the Jewish people build a sanctuary, so that Hashem's
holiness can have a place to reside on earth. When that sanctuary was built, it became the
basis for what later developed into the Bais HaMikdosh [Holy Temple in Jerusalem]. After
the Holy Temple was destroyed, the sanctity and service that were in the Holy Temple, were
transferred to the batay knessess [shuls, synagogues] and the worship activities therein.
With the shul being such a central part of
Jewish life and Torah practice, the sanctity which has to be prevalent in the shul, and in
the Jew's behavior in shul, is of profound importance.
The Torah commands us, "Be holy
[Leviticus 19:2]" and "You shall fear My sanctuary [Leviticus 19:30]." A
significant part of the Jew's attaining to holiness comes from one's conduct in shul and
his internalizing the holiness built into the shul by the Torah. Besides this, fear of G-d
is one of the mitzvos that applies at all times - in and out of shul. Outside of shul,
there might be worldly distractions or undertakings. In shul, there should be nothing but
service of G-d.
The shul is a very holy place. Accordingly,
conduct in shul must be holy. Secular, personal or purposeless talk and activity is
forbidden. Shul is exclusively for the holy activities of praying, learning Torah, doing
mitzvos and saying Tehilim [Psalms]. The sanctity and reverence necessary in the bais
knessess are of profound and central importance to our relationship with and attachment to
Every day, the practicing Jew reads
"Shma" and, within it, says the verse, "Lima'an yirbu yemaichem... [In
order that your lifetime be extended]." The gemora tells us that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben
Levi says that the meaning of this phrase is that the holiness of the land of Israel,
living there and doing mitzvos there, increases one's lifespan. The gemora says that the
holiness of the land of Israel is in every bais knessess [shul] and bais midrash
[yeshiva]. Since the Torah says that living a "mitzva rich" life in the land of
Israel increases life, then the more time and more mitzvos [such as praying properly,
learning Torah, saying Tehilim and doing acts of kindness] in a shul or in a yeshiva could
increase your life span.
In the gemora, the sages say that a
person's prayers are not listened to by Hashem except in a shul. It is the place of
"singing and prayer." The gemora cites a verse [from the book of Kings 1 as its
source] which says that Hashem should hear "the singing and the prayer" that His
servant says. The gemora there [Brachos 6a] says, "In the place of singing, there is
the place of prayer," which means: shul [Rashi]. This is where the congregation sings
and praises Hashem. "Singing" refers here to "Tehilim [Psalms]." This
teaches clearly 1. that the synagogue is the place for prayer and for singing to Hashem
and 2. that when you pray, this is where your prayer is heard. If you pray somewhere else
when it is the time to pray, you do not have the assurance that your prayer is heard. You
are obligated to pray at the appointed times, regardless of whether a shul is accessible
or not. When you pray in a place that is not a bais knessess [shul] or bais midrash
[yeshiva], you are discharging your duty to pray at that time; but, you are not assured
that your prayer is heard. When it is the time to pray the formal order of prayer, or if
there is a need that warrants individual prayer, if you want those prayers to be most
assuredly heard, go to a shul. This is where Hashem hears prayers.
The gemora continues by asking where we
learn that the place where Hashem is found is in the synagogue? "Hashem stands in the
congregation of G-d [Tehilim 82:1]." Hashem is found in the place where the people
congregate to serve G-d.
The gemora continues by asking how we know
that when ten people come together the Divine Presence is with them? The same verse tells
us that Hashem stands in the CONGREGATION of G-d. Hashem is found in the place where the
congregation comes for the service of G-d.
The Kessef Mishna, one of the most esteemed
commentaries on Rambam, asks why the Torah, at the beginning of Parashas Truma [where the
commandment to make the sanctuary is first stated], states "Make for Me a Mikdosh
[Sanctuary]." Why does the Torah not say "Make for me a Mishkon
[Dwelling]," since the Torah thereafter refers to it as the "Mishkon"
throughout the Torah? It seems inconsistent, a contradiction.
The Kessef Mishna tells us that the Torah
is teaching us that the Sanctuary is not only for that time in history. Rather, this
teaches that it is a commandment for all times to build a sanctuary for Hashem. Anywhere
and any time that there are ten adult male Jews in a community, they have the obligation
to build a structure dedicated to the service of Hashem and, in particular, prayer. Even
when we do not have the Mishkon [Holy Temple], we must have a sanctuary [shul] in all
This structure is known as a bais knessess,
the "house of congregation," since this is the place where adult men assemble
each morning and evening to worship and to pray.
The gemora says that if one day someone
does not come to shul the way he is supposed to every day, Hashem asks, "Where is
this individual? Where is this person who is required to have reverence for Me? If he is
not here because of a mitzva, then I will accept that. If it is because of his own
personal business, I will not accept that, because he should have trusted in Me, that I
will take care of his needs when he cannot take care of his business."
The gemora continues, "Rabbi Yochanon
said, 'At the time when the Holy One blessed be He comes to the shul [to meet the people
who come to pray], and he does not find that there is a minyan [quorum of ten men], He
immediately becomes angry.'"
The gemora says, "Rabbi Helbo said,
quoting Rabbi Huna, 'Everyone who establishes a steady place for himself in shul will have
the G-d of Abraham help him.'"
The above sources clearly and powerfully
demonstrate that shul is not a light matter. It is a foundation of Torah and is central to
one's truly being a servant of G-d. It is one of the holiest elements of Jewish life.
By stringing these sources together, we get
some picture of the power, holiness and value that the bais knessess has. We also see how
central to Jewish life it is.
Further, many of these sources come right
at the beginning of the Talmud - at the beginning of its first tractate. Chazal [the
Talmudic sages] wanted to teach us early in the oral Torah the importance of shul. It is
so fundamental that these lessons could not wait...they come right away. We see that we
have to apply this all to life at all times.
The Jew must congregate for the three
prayer services of shacharis [morning], mincha [afternoon] and ma'ariv [evening]. We must
always have the sanctuary with us, which we do in the form of the shul.
There are laws governing the building of a
shul. The shul has holiness, if it is built according to halacha [law] by G-d-fearing and
Torah-loyal Jews, for the sake of Heaven. The land of Israel is so holy that the gemora
says that if one walks four amos [about eight feet or two meters] there, he is guaranteed
eternal life. The holiness of the land of Israel is in every shul that is build according
Hashem wants the Jew to come to minyan
steadily, wants him to have a steady place in shul, wants to help him when he prays there,
He objects when he doesn't come [if for personal business] and He gets angry when a minyan
that should show up does not show up for its prayer service.
What, then, is shul? What do we have to do
to take advantage of what it offers and to approach it with the reverence and holiness
that it stands for and requires from us?
Building a synagogue is considered by
Hashem to be a great act. The prayers offered each day in the synagogue are comparable to
the avoda [sacrifices, service] done in the Holy Temple. Now our service is in the form of
prayer services, taking the place of the sacrifices and other services [e.g. lighting the
menora] performed by the Kohanim in the Holy Temple.
In the Torah portion of Mishpatim, the
Torah tells us "vi'avaditem es Hashem [and you shall serve G-d, Exodus 23:25]."
When we do not have the service of the Holy
Temple, this means that we must serve Hashem with prayer and worship. The synagogue today
parallels the Holy Temple and the service we perform today parallels the role of the
service of the Kohanim who served in the Holy Temple as representatives for the entire
Jewish people. Therefore, a shul should be built as nicely as possible and used to its
full purpose and potential, every day.
A shul causes enormous merit for the Jewish
people, because people come into it day in and day out, generally three times every day.
There could potentially be millions of mitzvos accomplished in a shul over the years. You
have an entire congregation getting together in unity to praise and worship Hashem. People
generously give of themselves to build, operate, administrate, maintain and support the
shul. It causes the divine presence to dwell among the Jewish people and it brings merit
to the community.
It says in Psalms [16:8], "I place
Hashem before me always." When a person is in the shul, he must stand with awe and
reverence, realizing that the divine presence with him. If one must always live with
consciousness of G-d in general, how much moreso in shul!
If a person lives in a neighborhood where
there is a shul, and he does not attend, he is called "a bad neighbor" by G-d.
If there were a person in one's neighborhood, who was a good person who it would be good
and normal for him to visit, and he did not visit, that would be insulting. Similarly,
when there is a synagogue in the neighborhood, and one does not attend, G-d designates him
a "bad neighbor" because of his not attending shul. If it is improper etiquette
to not visit one's neighbor of flesh and blood, how much moreso when he does not attend
the House of G-d! When one does not go, except in the event of sickness, important mitzva,
emergency or mishap beyond one's control, it appears as if the person is denying the
existence of G-d.
The ramifications of conduct in shul are
very serious. You can play a part in the extent to which the divine presence can be
brought into the shul and dwells within the people Israel.
In 1648-9, a cossack named Chmielniki led
an army across the Ukraine and Poland and slaughtered approximately 700,000 Jews. The
Tosfos Yom Tov, a major commentator on the Mishna and a holy man who was alive at the time
of this "mini holocaust," said that the reason for this decree of catastrophe
was because of talking in shul.
Punishment is serious for talking in shul;
especially when talking diverts anyone from saying required things, such as
"amen," "yehai shmay raba," "kedusha," "Borchu"
and when one is required to be quiet such as from the beginning of Pesukai Dezimra [Psalms
of Praise] through "Tachanun" and during reading of the Torah and during Kadish
and during the reading of the Megila. During all such times, it is mandatory to be quiet.
The Chafetz Chayim says that talking which
causes one to miss even one word of the reading of the Torah is an overwhelming sin. Rav
Moshe Feinstein says that we must be quiet during the reading of the Torah scroll because
it is somewhat a replication of receiving the Torah. The same way that no one would dare
to speak at Mount Sinai, when we were receiving the Torah, we cannot ever dare to speak
during the reading of the Torah.
Punishments for talking in shul are severe.
These could include premature death, loss of one's livelihood, loss of one's children and
the shul being burned down by fire.
The positive side of this is that people
should be encouraged to know and obey the laws of, and be sensitive to the reverence
necessary for, the holy place "shul" in actual practice.
Because the laws of establishing a bais
knessess [shul] are so severe, many shuls are technically established as a bais midrash
[study house or yeshiva] because the laws are much more lenient. For example, it is
forbidden to demolish a bais knessess. If a shul wanted to move, close or expand, this
would be a serious halachic problem. In a shul, one generally may not eat or drink. If one
wanted to be in shul for some extended period for any purpose and would want to eat or
drink there, he could have a halachic question. So great is the obligation to have fear
and awe for G-d and His sanctuary that many of the practical laws for a shul are very
severe and restrictive. One should find out if his shul was indeed technically established
as a shul and, if so, learn the laws necessary to properly conduct himself there. If one
is planning on starting a shul, he should investigate with a talmid chochom [Torah
authority] what his options are under the circumstances, and how he is best advised to
proceed. The laws should not be viewed as a burden. They should be viewed as a measure, in
a context understandable to finite humans, of the infinite greatness of Hashem Yisborach.
DERECH ERETZ IN SHUL
The midrash [Vayikra Raba] says that derech
eretz comes before Torah. Derech eretz is a phrase that refers to polite, civil,
thoughtful behavior. One must "have manners" and behave in socially acceptable
ways, particularly so as to be thoughtful of and pleasant to other people. This is a
prerequisite of Torah. Without derech eretz, one cannot claim to be a genuine Torah person
and one cannot behave as he must. This applies everywhere, including in shul.
One of the rabbis from whom I learned Torah
is Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, a posaik (decider of Jewish law) and Talmid Chacham
(accomplished scholar). There are parts of the prayer services during which it is strictly
prohibited in Jewish law to speak. Rabbi Zimmerman told me that even during parts of the
prayer services during which it is not strictly forbidden to speak, one should not speak.
He said that derech eretz requires that one not disturb anyone else in the shul by
speaking at any time during the services.
During prayer, one may not say Shmoneh
Esray (the silent prayer) with one's voice because your voice will bother other people
(Orech Chayim, Hilchos T'fillah 101:2) - not even with a low voice (Mishna Brura 10).
It is forbidden to walk within four amos
(approximately eight feet) in front of one who is praying Shmoneh Esray (Orech Chayim,
Hilchos T'fillah 102:4). One of the reasons is that this undoes the concentration of the
one praying (Mishna Brurah 15). Don't hang your tallis in a way in which it can yank
someone's property to the floor. In one morning alone I saw one young man in shul with his
jacket dangling (because his tefillin was on his arm). He walked by one desk and the
hanging garment pulled someone's tefillin bag off onto the floor, and when he got to the
desk in front of it, the hanging coat pulled a pushka (charity box) onto the floor. At the
same minyan I saw someone walk by the first desk and his dangling tallis pulled a sidur
off. When you put on tzitzis in shul, make sure you are far enough away from the next
fellow so that, while putting them on, you don't whip him in the face with the strings
(I've seen all of these occur in shuls dozens of times).
One who causes damage of any kind is fully
responsible. Shul is not a place where one should come to do any kind of damage or harm,
ever! Shul should never be destructive, shul should only be constructive.
A certain rabbi customarily prayed a long
"Shmoneh Esray" (the standing silent prayer), taking 20 or 30 minutes, in
contrast with the more usual 3 - 5 minutes. He took his prayer very seriously. One time he
prayed mincha (afternoon prayer) in a kollel (yeshiva specifically for married men) and,
on that afternoon, there were exactly ten men (a minyan - quorum - the minimum necessary
for the service) present. One of the worshippers had an important appointment. Immediately
before the service started, the visiting rabbi happened to have heard the man in a hurry
say that he would have to leave the moment prayer was over. This meant that if he were to
pray his customarily long Shmoneh Esray, he could possibly cause the service to take
longer than the usual time, inconveniencing the person who was in a hurry. He prayed the
same Shmoneh Esray, at the more common speed, taking just as long as the rest of the
minyan, out of consideration for the person in a hurry. After the service ended, I
overheard the Rosh Kollel (who knew this rabbi, and who knew that he normally takes much,
much longer than usual to pray Shmoneh Esray) say, "Till now I knew that you are a
Talmid Chochom. Now I know that you are a Talmid Chochom AND A MENTSH."
About two years later, I witnessed another
event with this same rabbi. He often prayed weekday shacharis (morning prayers) in a shul
which has about 6 minyans (scheduled services), spanning about four hours from dawn and
on. This rabbi came to one of the minyans with some regularity, generally not coming to
any of the minyans at other times. A person should adopt a "makom kevua (regular
place)" in shul and steadily pray there. The rabbi found a certain place which he
took for his makom kevua. The congregants for all 5 or 6 weekday minyans accumulate into
this shul for one morning service on Shabos or holidays, so the place is packed with 5 or
6 times as many people for a Shabos or holiday morning minyan than for any weekday morning
minyan. This rabbi once came to this shul on a holiday and, since he came early, thought
nothing of placing himself at his then empty makom kevua. His place was on a pathway which
lead to a row of seats along a wall. On weekdays, when the room was relatively empty, this
never blocked anyone. By the time that the holiday minyan got to Shmoneh Esray, the shul
was crowded like a rush hour subway car, lehavdil, and every seat was occupied. If he
would have prayed his long Shmoneh Esray, he would have blocked the coming and going of
anyone who might have needed to go by in the jam-packed shul. Again, he prayed Shmoneh
Esray of the conventional length of time, without "missing a beat," and without
inconveniencing any other person.
THE IMPORTANCE OF
KEEPING PEACE AT ALL TIMES
It is important to keep peace at all times,
especially in the synagogue. I have seen people in shul fight about trivial things (e.g.
"That's my seat") and holy things (e.g. should we say Tachanun now or not).
The higher the spiritual level of a thing,
the greater the yaitzer hora/evil inclination regarding it is. Since shul is very, very
holy, the evil inclination works very hard and intensely there to make sins, often in a
One can feel very indignant about some
"holy cause," and it is a pure and total sin! One of the ways this can manifest
in a shul is fighting, especially over "holy causes." You are urged to take any
thoughts of quarrel or objection to the rav of the shul, or a qualified talmid chochom
[wise Torah authority] and obtain instruction on handling the issue.
Causing someone else to sin is a sin
itself. This is called "machshol" by the Torah: one who causes another to
stumble in sin. There are many occasions in shul where one can cause another to sin (such
as by talking to someone who replies to the talker when talking is forbidden, or
positioning oneself to pray in a place where people will walk within four amos in front of
him while he is in Shmoneh Esray). Therefore, it is not enough to guard against one's own
violation of Torah. One must carefully guard against causing any other Jew to do any Torah
When one fights or gets angry in shul, it
is highly possible that he will not only sin himself. He may bring others to sin also,
Heaven forbid. This is a "double sin." Person #1 has the sin of causing another
person to sin, besides the actual sin done by person #2. This is all-the-moreso if a
sin-situation spreads to more than two people.
Bringing or maintaining peace is a huge
mitzva. One is obligated to exert himself, to spend money or impose upon himself for the
sake of peace.
More often than not, a fight or disruption
is not justified and will possibly lead to not just one but to many sins, e.g. hurting
feelings, embarrassing, slandering, ostracizing, hitting, vengeance, grudge-bearing,
disturbing the services, destroying friendships or reputations, causing harm, withholding
kindness, lying, vulgarity, instigation, escalation of arguments, contempt and/or the
formation of groups who will take sides against one another.
The Torah prohibits fights by its saying
[Numbers 17:5] not to be like Korach and his group, who fought against Moshe.
Midrash Beraishis Raba says that the
greatest thing between people is peace. Rashi [Leviticus 26:6] says that the blessing of
peace is equal to all other blessings combined. One can have every kind of blessing, such
as food and wealth, and without peace, one cannot benefit from the other blessings.
Without peace, one has nothing. Accordingly, there cannot be the due holiness in a bais
knessess without peace.
Once it comes to any arguing, generally
anything you can name is not worth it. It is more important to maintain peace and to
revere the sanctity of the bais knessess, Hashem's dwelling on earth. A fight is generally
NEVER holy. In shul, a fight is "a yaitzer hora with payos" - just a yaitzer
hora [evil inclination] that is more subtle than when outside of shul. There is never any
mitzva accomplished in a sinful way. In G-d's eyes, a mitzva that comes through a sin
remains a sin. If you are ever tempted to do anything belligerent or nasty, ask a rav what
to say or do, before you speak or act or get upset. One of the reasons why G-d wants
prayer from a minyan more than from an individual alone is that their getting together
means that Jews are united and in peace. The concluding prayer of every Shmoneh Esray is
for peace. To argue in shul is a contradiction and a hypocrisy!
A story which brings out how crucial it is
to extend oneself for peace is told in the name of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the
greatest Torah sages of the previous generation.
A man had yahrtzeit (anniversary of
decease) for a parent and wanted to lead the prayer service, as is customary. A stranger,
who had a very big and strong build, physically pushed this man away from the reader's
podium and said in bully fashion that he had yahrtzeit for an in-law who was killed during
the holocaust and he was going to pray before the congregation. Albeit the holocaust may
arouse sentiment, an in-law does not supersede a parent when it comes to leading the
prayer service on the yahrtzeit. And physical abuse is never permissible.
When the man, who was pushed, sadly told
Rabbi Feinstein what happened, Rabbi Feinstein replied that because he was peaceful and
didn't fight, the merit of the bully's prayer on behalf of the in-law's soul went to the
soul of this man's parent. There was nothing for him to feel sad about. He lost nothing by
keeping peace. In fact, he gained a mitzva.
One man had makom kevua [steady place] in
his shul. A man, who did not know that it was a reserved place, came in and started
praying there. A few minutes later, the person for whom that was a steady place came. He
started screaming at the man who was praying there and told him angrily never to sit in
his steady place. This man's makom kevua was for service of his ego, not service of his
Another man in another shul took a seat. He
did not know it was the steady place of a regular congregant in that shul. When the
regular person came and saw the visitor sitting in his steady place, he simply walked
further down the aisle several more rows till the next available seat. He silently and
calmly, as if nothing unusual was happening, and "without missing a beat," took
the first seat available and started putting on his tefillin. This man knew that his
purpose in shul is service of G-d, and he had his priorities straight.
An elderly gentleman had been reading the
Torah for nearly a half-century. He had a job reading the Torah for a certain shul every
Shabos morning. For the other prayer times on Shabos, he dovened at another shul that was
closer to his home. On Shabos afternoon, the Torah is also read. In the shul which was
closer to the old man's house, the Torah had been read in the afternoons by the same man
who reads it Shabos mornings. The old man felt that he should have the honor of reading
the Torah on Shabos afternoons and he felt offended that he wasn't invited to read the
Torah for mincha. They worked out a peaceful compromise. They each would read the Torah on
alternating Shabos afternoons.
If someone does not increase peace in the
world, he stands to be very destructive and he probably has no real connection to Torah.
Chazal tell us that talmiday chachomim [those wise in Torah] increase peace in the world,
and they are the ones who truly build the world.
THE JEW'S LOVE FOR G-D
EXPRESSED IN SHUL
The Torah also commands, "You shall
love the L-rd your G-d with all your hearts [Deuteronomy 6:5]." In shul we have the
opportunity to practice love for G-d by our prayer and our conduct in shul. Let us also
look at the curious plural language in this verse: to love G-d with all our
"hearts." Does a person have more than one heart? The sages explain that this
means that we are to love G-d with the two inclinations that are in the heart: the good
inclination and the evil inclination. One serves G-d by devoting his good AND evil
inclinations to Him. To serve G-d with one's good inclination is easy to understand: do
mitzvos, do kindnesses, work hard on tshuva [repentance] and mussar [spiritual elevation,
self-perfection] and do acts of piety [religious devotion and going beyond the technical
How can one serve or love G-d with one's
evil inclination? For example, if one is bloodthirsty, instead of getting into physical
fights or being a murderer, let one be a mohel who does the mitzva of circumcision, or let
him be a shochet [ritual slaughterer of kosher meat] or a kosher butcher, who feeds his
neighborhood. Similarly, in shul, one must use both of his inclinations to serve G-d. If,
for example, you feel like talking,
* be the reader who leads the prayer for
the congregation or
* be the one who reads the Torah for the
* regularly study Torah in shul about laws
of holy conduct in shul or
* silently use your inclination to
communicate for good e.g. by silently pointing out that someone's head tefillin [shel
rosh] is off position (it must be in the center of the head and not too far forward) or
the white of his tefillin straps is facing front (the black side must face front) or
warmly greet new visitors by silently doing the kindness of handing them a sidur (prayer
book) [and Chumash book, if it is Shabos] with a friendly and welcoming smile.
Channel your inclination exclusively into
holiness - and not to talking in shul. This will be a tikun (repair) for your neshama
[soul] and midos [character], and it will promote numerous mitzvos. You would apply this
principle to all spiritual issues and tests that challenge you. Transform your yaitzer
hora into service and love of G-d.
Chazal tell us that "G-d requires the
heart" and Chazal also tell us that "serving G-d with the heart is done through
prayer and reading 'Shma.'" Shul provides a crucial opportunity to serve G-d with all
your heart and to love Him with "both of your hearts," by channeling all of your
energies for keeping halacha [law], and for good and for holiness.
THE JEW'S LOVE FOR MAN
EXPRESSED IN SHUL
The Torah says, "You shall love your
fellow Jew as you love yourself, I am G-d [Leviticus 19:18]." Chazal ask why the
Torah adds 'I am Hashem' to the commandment to love our fellow Jew? We understand the
commandment (to love the next Jew) clearly without the Torah's adding "I am
Hashem" to the verse. This is to tell us "I am G-d and the Jew is My creation.
If you behave nicely and correctly to people, you love G-d. If you do not behave nicely
and correctly with people, you do not love G-d" [Avos DeRebe Noson 16]. This being
the case, a meaningful expression of our love for G-d is loving, honest, respectful and
correct treatment of each of our fellow Jews. This applies everywhere, but certainly
should not be overlooked in shul.
I witnessed the following myself in one of
the shuls in which I doven. One of the individuals who prays in the shul is very
impoverished, so much so that he wore torn pants. He would come day in and day out. He
would pray, go about his business and not bother or burden anyone. One day, a chassidic
man went over to this fellow and asked, "I need such a type of pants for my work. How
much does a pair like this cost?"
The poor individual answered, "It's
been 10 or 12 years since I bought these. If I recall, back then it was between 20 and 30
dollars." The poor individual was of the impression that he was doing the chassid a
kindness by providing sought-after information.
The next day, the chassid came to shul and
I saw him walk over to the poor fellow, smile lovingly, and place a twenty and a ten
dollar bill into his hand. The chassid had essentially bought the fellow a new pair of
pants of the kind that the fellow would - in his own taste - like. It was kavod [honor]
together with chesed [lovingkindness].
Then, as the tactful chassid was starting
to back away, the poor fellow, who evidently knew how to learn, said with a smile,
"When you told me yesterday that you want to know the price of the pants for work,
you obviously meant for 'avodas hakodesh [holy work]!'" They both smiled warmly. It
was a beautiful mitzva.
Another true story shows another kind of
consideration. It starts with several Torah concepts.
1. There is a law that when one is praying
the Shmoneh Esray [the standing silent prayer], another may not go within four
"amos" [about eight feet or two meters] in front of the one who is praying. 2.
There is another law that one takes three steps back just before the ending paragraph at
the end of Shmoneh Esray. 3. It is proper for a person to pray in a "makom kevua
[steady place]." The Talmud [Brachos] says that praying in a makom kevua helps one's
prayer to be answered by Hashem.
A man, who prayed slowly and carefully, was
about to start praying in his makom kevua. A stranger rushed into the shul at the last
minute and positioned himself right in front of the man who was in his steady place. The
man moved to his left enough so that the visitor would not be in front of him, reasoning
as follows. The visitor would probably pray more quickly and finish sooner. If the visitor
was learned, the visitor would have been "trapped" by the man in his regular
place, when it would be time to step back, and the visitor would notice the man behind
him. Moving anywhere in front of the man praying (in his steady place) would be forbidden.
The visitor would have to stand still and he would be unable to finish the prayer or move
for quite some time. If the visitor was not learned, he would have sinned by stepping
back, in front of the man who would have been praying in his steady place. The man praying
slowly in his steady place would have set up a sin, which is also a sin.
Either way, the man in his steady place
could have potentially caused a bad consequence in the eyes of the Torah. He would have
been selfish and/or sinful. Prayer is a mitzva and a mitzva must be pure good. Even though
a prayer in a steady place is normally more acceptable to Hashem, a tainted prayer would
be less acceptable to Hashem. He realized the situation just in the nick of time and
sacrificed his steady position so that his prayer would be free from any contradiction,
would not be at anyone else's expense and would be genuine service of Hashem.
In shul, one must make sure that he
balances his conduct between 1. the laws and obligations that govern conduct regarding
prayer and shul with 2. the Torah's constant obligations of loving, friendly, respectful,
humble, pleasant and peaceful conduct with other people. The Torah was given with two
"departments:" bain odom laMakome [mitzvos towards G-d] and bain odom lachavairo
[mitzvos towards fellow human]. Neither is license to compromise the other. Both
categories of mitzvos are binding and applicable at all times.
Let's look at another aspect of love for
fellow Jews for which shul is particularly suited.
In Avos DeRebi Noson, The Talmud tells us
that Daniel was beloved by his entire generation. He was a dynamo of chesed [active
lovingkindness]. What were the things for which his society loved him? He 1. made weddings
for poor brides, 2. made funerals for poor families who lost a member, 3. gave charity to
the poor and 4. he faced Jerusalem three times a day.
I can understand the first three items on
the list of kindnesses for which Daniel's entire generation loved him - they are very
generous and practical kindnesses. What is the last item that the Talmud cites? What does
facing Jerusalem three times a day tell us? Why is this appropriate on a list of
kindnesses for which his generation loved him?
Remember that the Biblical book of Daniel
takes place in Babylonia (modern day Iraq). When Jews pray, we do so facing Jerusalem. We
know that Daniel's facing Jerusalem three times a day means praying. But still, what does
that have to do with a list of kindnesses for which Daniel was beloved by the entire
Jewish population in his time?
Let's say you are performing the kindness
of caring for a sick person. You sweep his room, you feed him, you go to the drug store
and buy medicine. You take him to the doctor and even pay the doctor bill. The doctor says
hope is very dim. You have done all that is humanly possible. There is nothing more that
any human can do.
Now that all human effort is exhausted, you
pour your heart out in prayer to G-d. You say, "Hashem, I have done all that is in my
power. I have gladly expended all the resources at my disposal. The doctor says there is
next to no hope. Only You can save this person. This person has many merits. Many people
love this person. There are many good things that this person can do for other people.
This person has not wronged others. Have mercy and heal this person with a speedy and full
Once human power has been exhausted - in
other words, human chesed has been exhausted - and a person still needs more chesed, you
achieve chesed when you pray to G-d that He pick up where human chesed leaves off. By
praying that G-d give chesed to one whose need exceeds what humans can do, and you have
done all the practical deeds that you possibly can - your prayer is chesed! Daniel prayed
three times a day for those who he could do no more chesed for. WHEN HE DID ALL THAT HE
COULD AND THEN PRAYED TO G-D ON BEHALF OF THESE PEOPLE, FOR THE NEEDS THAT WERE BEYOND
HUMAN CONTROL - THIS WAS CHESED and his entire generation loved him!
Daniel's chesed was thorough. It included
prayer to G-d on behalf of others for that which was beyond Daniel's doing. HIS PERSONAL
LIMITATION DID NOT IMPOSE LIMITATION ON HIS CHESED! Consider: G-d is infinite. To the
extent that we bring G-d into our approach to chesed, OUR CHESED CAN SOMEWHAT APPROACH
Chesed means doing everything that you can
do with your actions, powers and resources to help a person and be kind to a person. When
you have done all that you can and all that is in your power and control, chesed also
means praying to Hashem. "Now that I have done all that I can, the rest is up to You.
You help the person, You give salvation, You solve the trouble, YOU PICK-UP WHERE HUMAN
POWERS LEAVE OFF." If a person is mortally ill, is in need of more financial help
than you can give, needs a shidduch, is having a rough pregnancy, is leaving on a
dangerous voyage, was kidnapped, is lost or hasn't been heard from, is leaving
Yiddishkeit, is in jail in an anti-semitic country, is emotionally depressed over some
hardship or disappointment, etc. you plead with Hashem to quickly help in a kind,
compassionate, effective, complete and lasting manner. You pray that He picks up where
human ability leaves off. "Please, Hashem, take care of so-and-so who needs
such-and-such." When the matter "is in Hashem's hands," your regular and
repeated praying on behalf of the person/people is chesed. Pick up a Tehilim. Do extra
mitzvos, do tshuva for sins or shortcomings, work extra hard to guard against sins.
Influence other people to pray, add mitzvos and guard against sins. Encourage others to
appreciate and do more chesed. The Chafetz Chaim says to teach other people to value and
perform chesed of all kinds. Have kavana (intention) that G-d apply the extra merit on
behalf of the person with need, suffering or trouble.
The most important thing in praying is to
give G-d your complete heart while having genuine concern and full concentration; and that
the prayer be sincere and with complete trust that G-d is the only One in control of the
supply of all needs and that He will do what He deems to be for the best.
THE HOLINESS OF PRAYER
The word in Hebrew for prayer is
"hispalel." Technically, its translation does NOT mean prayer. What is its true
meaning? How should we understand what prayer TRULY is?
For starts, it is a word in the
"hispa'el" binyan [structure] within Hebrew grammar. In English, the
"hispa'el" structure (in grammar) would be called a "reflexive verb."
This means it is an action in which the same person simultaneously causes and receives the
action. As a simple example, let us take the verb "to feed." A mother CAUSES an
action when she FEEDS her baby. The baby RECEIVES the action: he is FED. When the mother
FEEDS HERSELF, this is what is called, in grammar, a "reflexive" action: a
person is both the CAUSE AND RECIPIENT of the action at the same time. This is the case in
the verb "hispalel."
The root verb is peelail [peh, lamed,
lamed; to judge or decide]. Being the reflexive structure of the verb peelail, hispalel
actually means to judge oneself, to decide about oneself.
When one prays, he is not so much asking
for something from Hashem. He is JUDGING AND DECIDING WITHIN HIMSELF WHETHER HE MERITS
THAT FOR WHICH HE IS PRAYING! Praying is self-assessment, introspection and deciding what
one must do to deserve and merit what he needs, and how to perfect himself. To pray is not
to demand, expect or feel entitled. Prayer requires humility and subjugation to G-d's
absolute rule and power over all of creation. Pirkei Avos [chapter two], says, "Be
careful in the reading of Shma and in prayer, and when you pray do not regard your prayer
to be a burden or habit but, rather, to consider prayer a beseeching of mercy and favor
from He Who is everywhere."
Prayer is holy, so much so that the gemora
tells us that G-d prays to Himself. His prayer is that His mercy should supersede stern
judgement when judging the Jewish people. When we pray properly, we fulfill the mitzva of
emulating G-d as well as the mitzvos to pray properly, to be holy and to fear G-d's
Even well-intended interruptions, such as
someone going around jiggling a coin box to collect charity at a time when silence is
required, is prohibited in halacha. It is what the gemora call "a mitzva which comes
through a sin" and the Torah prohibits any mitzva which comes through a sin;
generally, the act is entirely a sin. One should wait to collect charity until after
Tachanun, and if it is a day when the Torah is being read, wait until after the Torah is
put back in the ark. Since the verse in Ashray, "Posayach es yodecha... [You open
your hand...]" requires concentration, it is recommended that such mitzva
interruptions be delayed till after the completion of the second reading of
"Ashray;" and that all non-halachic distractions, interruptions or noises be
discontinued altogether; especially before services have altogether ended.
During prayer, one is connecting with
Hashem. Hashem is evaluating each person's merits relative to his needs and requests. The
Jew should constantly keep his conduct blameless and his speech pure, to optimize the
holiness - and, therefore, effectiveness - of his prayer.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYING
WITH A MINYAN
The Torah refers to a group of ten men as a
"congregation" [Numbers 14:27]. The Talmud says that we learn from here that
there is no "congregation" with less than ten Jewish men, what we call a
"minyan [count or quorum]."
King David tells us [Psalm 69:14],
"And, as for me, my prayer is to You, G-d, at an acceptable time, L-rd, in the
abundance of Your lovingkindness answer me, in the truth of Your salvation." The
gemora says that when the verse says "at an acceptable time," that means the
time when the congregation is praying. King David is indicating to us the importance of
praying to Hashem at the time when the congregation is praying.
The gemora says that if a person learns or
supports Torah, does acts of lovingkindness towards other Jews and prays with the
congregation, Hashem will count it as if he has the merit to undo the exile. The reason
that Hashem redeemed King David from being endangered by enemies is because he always
prayed with the congregation. The synagogue is called a "tower." Just as a tower
is high and protective and enables one to fight off an enemy; because there is Torah,
prayer and service of G-d in the synagogue; the synagogue is high and protects the
Rabbi Chanina said that, even though Hashem
has millions of angels in Heaven who sing His praises every day, G-d only WANTS the
prayers of Israel. G-d has unique delight when Jews congregate to pray and sing His
praises. King Solomon said [Proverbs 14:28], "Where there is a multitude of people,
there is the king's glory." A big congregation is an honor to Hashem, the King. When
a congregation comes together to sing Hashem's praise, to pray to Him, to attribute
Kingship and Holiness to Him, to thank Him and to serve Him; the larger the crowd that
gets together, the more glorification of G-d that is achieved. This makes Hashem happier
than millions of angels singing His praise.
At the start of the Amida (standing silent
prayer, the principal prayer, also called "Shmoneh Esray") we acknowledge that
the individual's merit generally is not sufficient to merit fulfillment of prayer and we
appeal to the merit of our forefathers, particularly Avraham.
Further, we petition our Father in Heaven
to be willing and merciful in His receipt of our prayers (e.g. vikabail birachamim
uviratzon es tefilasainu...raikam al tisheevainu) and that they be granted in a good
The importance of praying with a minyan is
incalculable, especially when you consider that, within prayer, we beseech Hashem, for our
needs. How our prayers are received affects what we receive from Hashem. Prayer is a
fantastic opportunity. We optimize that opportunity by praying regularly, in shul and with
a minyan. Proper praying is a serious part of life, and praying in shul with a minyan is a
serious part of prayer.
PREPARATION FOR PRAYER
The prophet [Amos 3:12] says, "Prepare
yourself to meet your G-d, Israel." The meaning of this is that you should be dressed
properly and that you approach prayer fittingly. One must wash the hands and it is proper
to give charity before prayer.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch [commentary to
Torah] says that the word "kadosh" [holy] also means "readiness" for a
specific purpose. A significant part of being holy is readiness to separate from the
earthly, to be a pure servant of Hashem. Being holy is, itself, a mitzva de'Oraisa
[commandment from the Torah]. Since prayer is potentially pure service of Hashem, proper
preparation for it is a major facet of a Jew's capacity to be holy - and to use prayer for
How one prays affects G-d's response to his
prayer. When the Jewish people were hungry in the desert, they asked for food. G-d granted
the manna every weekday for the 40 years that the Jews were in the desert. When they grew
tired of only eating the manna, they contemptuously complained and nastily asked for meat.
G-d granted the request by bringing quail birds in quantity by a powerful wind. In
essence, G-d "dumped" the quails as if with "a slap in their face" and
in such large measure that it made the people sick and disgusted. They asked in a way that
wasn't nice and the prayer was answered in a way that wasn't nice. It is vital, therefore,
to always pray in a manner of humility, respect, awe and holiness. By praying in a nice
way, we increase the chance that G-d will grant the prayer in a nice way. Praying nicely
includes the attitude, frame of mind, purity of intention, emotion and tone as well as the
words. Always remember that how one dovens determines how that prayer is answered. Part of
proper preparation for prayer is becoming able to pray in such a good way that the prayer
can be "mirrored" by G-d, so as to be granted in a way that is entirely good.
If possible, one should prepare himself
mentally for prayer before starting. This could be accomplished by saying Tehilim or
learning Torah that pertains to service of G-d or the holiness of shul or praying. When
one prays, his heart should be directed and given entirely to G-d.
I find it effective to say Tehilim on
behalf of sick and injured Jews before "official dovening." This combines the
benefits of Tehilim and prayer together, creates a prepared and elevated frame of mind for
the prayer services and introduces an element of unselfish kindness and compassion, which
is how one wants G-d to receive his prayers. I read a two-page list of names, saying a
little prayer sincerely asking that Hashem fully heal these and all other Jews who are ill
[physically, mentally or emotionally] in the merit of the coming chapters of Tehilim. I
generally read five chapters.
On Shabos or Yom Tov (when prayers for
individuals are not allowed), I omit the names and just ask that G-d fully heal all the
sick in Israel. You might want to ask why we say "Mee Shebairach" on Shabos or
Yom Tov for sick people, if prayers for individuals are not allowed? The answer is simple:
it is considered a bracha (blessing), not a prayer. We can - and should - make blessings
every day! We use this blessing on Shabos and Yom Tov in order to not neglect the
seriously ill who need Heaven's help.
During the morning prayer, a particularly
appropriate time for separating money to give to charity is towards the end of Pesukai
Dezimra, shortly after standing up [in the section which starts, "Vayivorech
David..."] while saying the words, "Vi'ata moshail bakol [and You rule over
everything]." For example, by taking a coin out of one's usual money pocket and
putting the money into an empty pocket, the charity is separated and ready to be given
away at the first opportunity. By acknowledging that G-d rules over the allocation of all
money, and by willingly separating money for giving just when making that acknowledgement,
one is deemed more worthy of receiving money, if his intention is sincere and for the sake
One who shows that he considers worldly
resources to be given by G-d, for the purpose of giving them to fellow Jews for G-d's
service, and he shows that he is a reliable "administrator" of worldly resources
for the service of G-d's will, he is given more worldly resources by G-d to
"administer" [Maharal of Prague].
HoRav Shimon Schwab, z'l, wrote, in a
letter to me, that one is much more likely to succeed in a thing when he does it entirely
for the sake of Heaven.
Similarly, before mincha and ma'ariv, one
can put money into the charitable coin boxes or separate money for later distribution. The
point is to prepare before praying in a way that introduces into your prayer the
fulfillment of the mitzva to love every other Jew as yourself. That brings peace and unity
between Jewish people and that brings peace and unity between Hashem and the Jews. And, if
you are compassionate to G-d's children, He has more reason to be compassionate to you. He
rules the world with the principle of "mida kinegged mida [measure for measure]. The
mishna tells us that the way one conducts himself is the way that Heaven conducts Itself
EACH NUSACH [KOSHER TEXT
VARIANT] AND TORAH TRADITION IS HOLY
In the choice of which nusach [prayer text
variation] to pray, and all matters, one should follow the custom of his ancestors.
The prophet tells us [Hoshea 14:10],
"The ways of G-d are correct, tzadikim [the righteous] go in them and the sinners
stumble in them." Notice that Hoshea speaks in the plural. The WAYS of G-d are
correct. There are several ways to serve G-d e.g. the Litvish way, the Chasidish way, the
Sefardic way, the Taimanee [Yemenite] way, the "Yekkish [German]" way. They are
all correct. But when is it so that they are all correct? When they are the "WAYS OF
G-D." As long as they are kosher traditions, based on the will of G-d, and the Torah
that He gave the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and faithfully passed down from fathers to
sons through the generations, they are each correct.
Every individual has his good and evil
inclinations, and the free choice to go in either inclination. In any tradition, based on
the Torah of G-d, one can be righteous and go in the ways of G-d or he can be a sinner and
stumble. One can even stumble in the WAY OF G-D. The evil inclination can make someone
stumble in a most disgusting sin. The evil inclination can also be very clever and make a
person use religion sinfully, such as the person who argues over a "holy cause"
in shul, or the person who talks Torah at a time when speaking in shul is totally
forbidden, or the person who steals a lulav to use on the holiday of Sukos, or the person
who cheats and steals in business to become more charitable (while in G-d's eyes he just
remains a disgusting thief).
The "righteous go in them," the
ways of G-d; and the sinners stumble in them. Which way one goes depends on the tradition
that he comes from and that he use his free-will choice to be a tzadik. THE MAIN THING IS
THAT HE BE A TZADIK, THAT HE GOES RIGHTEOUSLY IN THE "WAYS OF G-D."
The Talmud says that when one kosher Torah
tradition is at variance with another kosher Torah tradition, "This one and that one
are equally the words of the living G-d."
WHEN WE KEEP IN MIND G-D'S
PURPOSES, HE KEEPS IN MIND OURS
Always keep in mind what we come to shul
for: prayer and praising G-d. Keep in mind that G-d is the answerer of prayer. For Him to
be the answerer of prayer, we must pray in order for Him to answer prayer! Prayer must be
proper. It must have kavana [intention, concentration] and faith, humility, reverence and
Prayer must be with the trust and
realization that ONLY He is the One Who gives us all of our needs. He is the Creator,
King, Father, First Cause and Director of everything. So, when we pray to Him properly, we
are fulfilling a mitzva, we are fulfilling halacha, we are doing His will, we are
listening to Him, so we obtain merit that Hashem will be listening to us. An important
part of that is dovening without forbidden interruption. Proper dovening spiritually
Rabbi Shimon Schwab said that reverent
silence in a bais knessess speaks loudly to Hashem. Peace and tranquility in prayer
achieve communication with Hashem. Hashem has infinite kindness to answer our prayers and
the ultimate power and control with which to answer our prayers. He answers those who
honestly and sincerely have faith that prayers are answered by Him. An important part of
that is our obedience to His will. Pirkei Avos [chapter two] says to do Hashem's will that
He do your will.
Ramban, at the end of Parashas Bo, says
that the purpose of existence is to believe in Hashem and that He created us and
everything for His honor. The purpose of prayer in the bais knessess is for people to use
that capacity for prayer to gather together and to praise Hashem for creating them and all
of existence, and for giving them good that is beyond counting or measuring, and to thank
Him for the blessings and benefits that He constantly gives to us and to every creature in
existence. We all should publicize that we are His creations and that we serve Him. As an
extension of that, Evven Ezra says we are obligated to honor the place that is the house
of prayer for the honor of Hashem. Hashem gives us kindnesses at every moment. Man has to
give time to worldly undertakings, not just spiritual undertakings. Each has to eat,
sleep, earn livelihood, raise children, keep a house. We have to specifically establish a
time and place for prayer to thank and praise Hashem and to ask for our needs and to give
Him reverence and service three times a day.
Each person is obligated to pray that his
mouth be guarded [we accomplish this in "Elokai netzur" at the end of Shmoneh
Esray]. Each must be careful with what one's mouth says; that he says nothing vile,
offensive, slanderous, heretical, false, cruel, harmful, embarrassing or vulgar - nothing
that is against G-d, man or Torah. The mouth that prays to Hashem must be pure and free
from sins. Each person must realize that he stands in shul before a King with the power of
life and death.
It is best not to sit next to someone
considered by halacha to be evil, or a person who can be disturbing. Included in this is
NOT bringing children to shul before they are at the age where they can be controlled and
quiet. Although some people advocate bringing children to shul at early ages, so they will
be used to shul, the children often are wild and disturbing to others, and they often do
not grow up in regard to their conduct in shul! They talk, disturb and behave childishly
in shul for their entire lifetime. Since they never knew any better, they can never be
reasoned with about behaving properly, no matter how old they get. When a child grows up
to behave improperly, especially if defiant or rigid, this reflects on the parent poorly,
showing that such a parent was irresponsible, ignorant, boorish and selfish. In the laws
of honoring parents, a great mark of honor for parents is conduct which makes people say
that the parents of such a person were exemplary.
The Talmud says that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben
Levi said that a person should always come early to the shul, in order that he should be
among the first ten to come, even if there will be 100 more people coming after, because
the reward is greatest for those ten who constitute the original minyan. The Talmud
further says that whoever goes to shul at the times of the prayers, and is there for the
proper amount of time, and conducts himself with the holiness that is required, this
person's life will be extended!
THE SHUL IS ONLY FOR
G-D'S PURPOSES, NOT PERSONAL PURPOSES
The Torah says, "You shall fear My
sanctuary [Leviticus 19:30]." The bais knessess is the sanctuary of our time. We are
therefore warned by the Torah about the sanctity of the synagogue and to fear Hashem Who
dwells in there, and to fear His sanctuary. Numerous laws and principles govern behavior
in shul and define what is and is not proper in shul.
In the synagogue, it is prohibited to take
care of any personal business, to discuss secular things, to gossip or joke. The only
things which may be spoken about are those which have to do with the holy purpose that you
are required to go there for. At certain times you are not even permitted to speak Torah!
At certain times when speaking is allowed, outside of prayer times, you may speak Torah or
about doing mitzvos or about tzadaka [charitable] needs, matters of the shul [e.g.
counting the money in the charity box or speaking about repairs needed for the Torah
scrolls]. During prayers, the laws which limit speaking are very severe and detailed.
Between the beginning of Pesukai Dezimra and the conclusion of Tachanun; and especially
during the silent Shmoneh Esray, the reader's repetition of the Shmoneh Esray, Torah
reading, the Megila and any Kadish; there should be no speaking (even about Torah), other
than that which is called for in the prayers and the congregational responses.
You are obligated to use the shul only for
its purpose. One must leave personal and worldly purposes outside. If you do use the shul
for a personal purpose, such as for a short-cut, you must use it for a holy purpose while
in there, such as learning something of Torah [e.g. a Mishna or something from the weekly
Torah portion or from TaNaCH] or saying a chapter of Tehilim. Similarly, if you want to
call or find someone in the shul, you should find something holy to do, even if for a few
moments, so that when you go into the shul, you go in for a holy purpose that the shul is
there for, every time.
This applies to every holy thing. For
example, if you want to make change from one of the shul's charity containers, you must
give some of the money to charity, so that you will not have used the charity fund for a
personal purpose. If, for example, you put a dollar in, take out only three, not four,
quarter-coins. This way, you've done the holy act of giving tzadaka, instead of the
secular act of making change.
OBTAINING BLESSING FROM
The synagogue is a miniature version of the
Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the mountain we call "Zion." There are some verses
in Psalm 24 that give some insight into the beauty inherent in this subject, keeping in
mind that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is really where the service of Hashem is supposed
to be. The synagogue is the substitute for the Holy Temple, since we currently do not have
"Who is the one who will go up to the
mountain of G-d? Who will attain to His holy place? The one whose hands are clean and
whose heart is pure. The one who did not use his mouth falsely and who has not sworn
deceitfully. This one will obtain blessing from Hashem and generosity from the G-d Who
We see in this that if one properly uses
his faculties, his hands are clean, his heart is pure, and he does not misuse his gift of
speech, but uses these for the proper purposes and he is pure, this is the one who Hashem
will bless, be generous to and save from trouble.
Since the mouth is a key instrument in
prayer, one's mouth should always be of merit; never used to eat anything unkosher, never
to speak in a way that harms or shames another person, never speaks apostasy or falsity,
etc. The mouth is used for Torah, kindness, encouragement, comfort, blessings, truth and
service of G-d. A mouth of merit brings significant merit to one's prayer.
Prayer is substantially duty of the heart.
In the heart rests one's midos [character traits], free-will choice and one's essential
identity and qualities as a person. One should never think, feel or do sin or evil. One
should use his heart to refrain from sin; and for spiritual growth, halacha observance,
passing the tests presented by life, mitzvos, holiness and ever-increasing devotion and
attachment to Hashem. A heart of merit brings significant merit to one's prayer.
There is a parallel in all of this to what
we are discussing since the synagogue is the mini-sanctuary, the substitute for the Holy
Temple while we are in exile. In order to really serve Hashem, to be spiritual and holy,
to strive to be a true servant, it requires deeds that are clean, a heart that is pure, it
requires knowing what to use the mouth for and what to not use the mouth for; to achieve
the attachment that this service is supposed to create between the Jew and Hashem, in the
spirit of holiness; in the place in which the holiness of Hashem, the Jew and the
sanctuary all come together.
In the beginning of this treatise, I
brought the analogy given by Me'am Loez wherein the sanctuary is analogous to a chamber in
which G-d showers love upon the Jewish people, as a loving father would upon his child. By
our being His children, He is able to see Himself as our Father. As a father has love and
mercy for his child, G-d has love and mercy for the Jew. But, nothing worthwhile is free.
There are rules built into "the system," but when His children obey the Torah,
do tshuva and improve themselves steadily, G-d showers His beloved children with His
generous kindness. Besides G-d's bestowal of blessing upon us, we benefit from obeying G-d
because we grow as human beings, we make ourselves holier, we connect with the
Creator of the universe and we elevate our neshama (eternal soul) and bring to it
completion and perfection.
G-d wants to bless the Jewish people and to
give us our needs. By conducting ourselves according to the Torah, we earn merit so that
G-d can "see His way clear" to giving us kindness and compassion. Two major
parts of creating the necessary merit for this are our conduct in daily life, in general,
and our conduct in His house, in particular.
The ultimate lesson of the sanctuary, which nowadays is the
shul, is to make yourself holy and to behave at all times in life as a Torah Jew - in the
synagogue and everywhere else. The Torah beckons us to study the spiritual obligations and
standards associated with the sanctuary. That is not enough. You must apply them in the
bais knessess three times every day and internalize them so they become a true part of you
at all times, in order to bring you to spiritual elevation, perfection and holiness; and
in order that you conduct yourself as a child of G-d everywhere and in everything that you
do. The one whose deeds are clean, whose heart and speech are pure, he will obtain
blessing and salvation from G-d - and will truly arrive at His holy place.