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Minyan is a quorum of ten and it is a Jewish tradition to pray with a quorum. In fact, the holiest parts of prayer, the sanctification of G-d’s name and the chanting from the Torah, may only occur in the presence of a minyan. We believe that our prayers have …

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Home » Vayigash

Vayigash : Talking to G-d

Submitted by on December 16, 2004 – 10:10 pmNo Comment | 1,929 views

I was driving on the New York State Thruway late one afternoon and parked on the shoulder to recite the Mincha prayer. I closed my eyes and tried to tune out the sounds of passing cars when a police cruiser pulled up behind me and asked over his loudspeaker if anything was the matter.

A battle ensued within me. Jewish law prohibits idle chat during prayer but ignoring a police officer is a punishable offense. My knees buckled, my heart grew faint, my mind protested but my soul held fast.

In this instance my soul won out. I continued to pray, putting my chat with G-d ahead of my chat with mortal flesh and blood.

Prayer and War

The Zohar proclaims that the time of prayer is a time of war. In prayer we seek to forge a loving relationship with G-d and to do so the soul must battle the mind and heart. (1). Prayer requires tremendous effort. It demands that G-d be our only concern and that we surrender our ego.

Yet when we attempt to channel our thoughts towards G-d, the brain rebels. It refuses to comply and insists on wandering the labyrinth of thoughts that form the worries of our daily concerns.

This is what I experienced on the side of that road. It was the battle of the soul against the baser instincts in man. It was a test of wills to determine which is paramount. (2)

This battle takes place on three different planes, the heart, the soul and the essence, as indicated by the following verse. “ And you shall love G-d your lord with all your heart(s), with all your soul and with all your might.” (3). To properly understand the respective planes we will introduce a parable.talking to G-d - innerstream

You Can’t Win By Losing – Three Levels

    1. A man, who accepted a prestigious sales position for a large corporation, was told that he was expected to push a phantom product that the company didn’t carry. He didn’t want to be a party to a crime but he also didn’t want to lose his prestigious position. He was forced to weigh the pros and cons before determining his course of action.This moral dilemma could only be dealt with intellectually.
    2. The next day he discovered that he was expected to target his family first and persuade them to pay for a product that would never be delivered. This test was much easier to overcome. He didn’t need to argue the finer points of morality, he had a quick response. His family was more important than his promotion and he would not steal from them to gain prestige.In this instance his love of prestige was still alive but it was overwhelmed by his greater love for family.
    3. The next day his boss demanded that he buy the phantom product himself. This time his desire for promotion simply disappeared. If he cheated himself to gain promotion he would lose on all counts. This demand was totally absurd and he did not even bother to countenance it.

 

In this instance he obviously didn’t need to weigh his desire against his instinct for self-preservation, when he realized that he would be cheating himself, his desire naturally dissolved. (4)

Love For G-d – Three Planes of Battle

The parable’s modalities of dealing with temptation can be applied to prayer and its three planes of battle.

 

  • The first level described in the verse is love through the heart(s). This includes both the spiritual and the animal nature within man. (5) How does one endeavor to enlist his animal nature to the service of G-d? Through intellectual dialog.

 

When we embark on a course of prayer, the animal instinct endeavors to interfere. It intrudes upon our thoughts and introduces all forms of distracting issues that require our immediate attention.

The proper response to this intrusion is a measured one. We must reason with our evil inclination, to methodically and intellectually explain why it is necessary to concentrate on the prayer at hand. We must meditate on G-d’s greatness until we have persuaded the animal instinct that our relationship with G-d outweighs the pressing needs of our day.

This is a laborious process that requires constant battle similar to the first form of temptation in the parable. (6)

 

  • The second level of love described in the verse is love through the soul. We do not engage the animal instinct at all, we simply ignore it and allow the soul to express its uninhibited love for G-d.

 

In the first stage the animal is converted, in the second stage it is dominated. In the first stage it is drafted into service by dint of persuasion, in the second stage it is beaten into submission by sheer force of will.

Though the animal is passive in the second stage it is still in silent opposition; it has not yet surrendered. That is accomplished only in stage three. (7)

 

  • The third and final level of love for G-d is when we love him with our essence. Our essence is a veritable part of G-d. At that level, drawing away from G-d is drawing away from self.

 

 

There is no struggle when the essence is introduced. I cannot be distracted from G-d to think about myself because without G-d there is no self. It is not G-d against me, because G-d and I, are one.

This is the ultimate love that we strive for, the ultimate communion, which is the essence of prayer. (8) (9)

Footnotes

 

  • Zohar vol. III p.243 a
  • Deuteronomy 6. 5
  • In our Parsha Yehudah approached the viceroy of Egypt, who unbeknown to him was his brother Yosef, to demand the release of his brother Binyamin. Our sages say that this approach was two pronged, he was prepared for entreaty and for war. Just as in prayer we seek communion with G-d so did Yehudah seek to reach and gain the sympathy of the viceroy of Egypt. But just as in prayer we must do battle against our baser self in order to succeed so too was Yehudah prepared to do battle with the elements that would interfere between himself and his goal of reaching the viceroy
    .
  • There is an old Jewish saying that goes like this. Whom can you deceive? G-d is certainly never deceived, your fellow man is also not easily deceived, the only one left to deceive is yourself. Since you allow yourself to be deceived, you too are a fool. Are you then proud of deceiving a fool?
  • The usage of the Hebrew word LEVAVCHA – which means hearts (in the plural) indicates that the Torah refers to both dimensions of man, the spiritual and the material. In the words of the Mishnah the inclination for good and the inclination for evil. See Mishnah tractate Brachos ch. 9
  • It is analogous to the battle that takes place within the recovering alcoholic who is tempted to drink. When the bottle beckons coherent thought is difficult, yet he must reject its allure and remember the damage that even one concession can wreak. He must enlist his base instinct and convince it to be as repulsed by the alcohol as his brain is.
  • The battle discussed in footnote 4 is only joined after the alcoholic has permitted himself to be enticed. The first duty of the recovering alcoholic is to distance himself from temptation. From a distance he need not engage in debate he can rather focus on constructive projects that would distract him from his weakness. However, though the thoughts of temptation would not plague him they would also not have disappeared. They would lurk just beneath the surface waiting for an opportunity to emerge.
  • Oh, by the way you must be wondering about what did happen in the end on the side of that road. By the time I finished praying the police car was long gone.
  • This essay is founded upon a Chassidic discourse delivered on 9 Kislev 5739 (R. Menachem M. Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch 1902 – 1994)

 

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