By Larry Fine
Would it sound strange to you if I said that prayer is something holy and should not be approached in a light manner? After all, would one think that prayer is a mundane secular matter? Yet when we think about it, how many of us sanctify the time of our prayer?
Have we not been guilty of rushing through our prayers because we are in a hurry or because we came to the synagogue late? Or perhaps we are just in the habit of praying quickly.
The Talmud Brachot relates that the early pious men would wait an hour before prayer and then wait another hour after prayer. This means that they would not just "jump" into prayer, but they would reflect and contemplate for an hour before they would begin to pray. Similarly, they would not run away when their prayers were finished, but rather, reflect and contemplate for another hour after prayers were completed.
The rabbis in the Talmud ask the question:
"If they paused an hour before prayer, and an hour after prayer, and we know that prayer takes an hour, that is three hours. Since we pray three times a day, each session took them three hours; therefore they spent a total of nine hours a day involved in prayer! If this were the case, how did they maintain their livelihood?"
The Talmud answers: since they were pious men, their livelihood was maintained for them (from heaven).
We then see that these pious men treated their prayers with such respect that they would not just mumble some words of the Psalms and "shuckle" (move their body back and forth), but rather they would spend much time to get themselves into the mood for prayer. They were rewarded for this in that their livelihood came from the short time they had remaining in the day to exert themselves in work.
One of the greatest obstacles to proper prayer is our concern with our daily mundane lives. We are living in a purely physical world with all of its strains and stresses. We are concerned with our financial problems, personal difficulties, meetings and appointments that we have scheduled for the day. In addition, health and family problems take up our time, and if we do not have these issues, there is an unlimited list of other concerned just waiting to occupy our minds and our time.
Therefore, is it any wonder that when a person takes time out of his busy day to pray, he tries to minimize the impact that it will have on the order of his day. Yet it is for just this reason that prayer is relegated to second place. Prayer is something that we feel that we must do, like a hundred other chores that must be done and finished, before we can relax and enjoy what is left of the day.
Yet it is exactly this point that made those pious men merit success in their endeavors beyond the yardstick of the time that they exerted in their businesses. They made the time that they "spent" with G-d important enough that they would sit an hour to contemplate the greatness of G-d and the insignificance of their own existence. This reflection would enable them to approach prayer in a manner to keep external thoughts from creeping into their prayers.
Since their prayer was without the blemish of extraneous thoughts, and for the purpose of total communion with G-d, and with the self-sacrifice of their precious time that they could have used to make a living, they merited G-d's help in their endeavors.
If a person knew and understood that all of his successes came from the grace of G-d, and that his own efforts were fruitless with out the blessing of G-d, he would put more effort into his prayers.
But let us not make a mistake, it is not that he prays in order to be successful, even though that is a valid prayer, but he prays so that he may connect to the source of his life, and the source of the universe, G-d.
We can compare this concept to an airplane that is traveling a great distance. It would seem logical that it not fly extremely high since going up to excessive heights uses up much fuel. It would be reasonable to expect an airplane to rise up to a level that would keep it from getting too near tall buildings or mountains. Yet we find that airplanes rise up to heights beyond reasonable conflicts with high obstacles. Why? The reason is that the higher that the airplane flies, the less air resistance there is. Mile for mile, the higher the airplane flies, the less fuel it consumes, and the faster it can travel with less energy expended.
We too want to pray with the least amount of friction, we want our prayers to get to where they must reach without any resistance. Therefore does it not make sense for us to adopt the methodology of those pious men?
One of the most profound and meaningful actions that we can do each day is to contemplate the greatness of G-d and the meaninglessness of our mundane lives. We need to see that all is really in the hands of G-d. With his blessings we will no longer be disturbed by extraneous thoughts. In prayer and in giving the time to prayer that is needed, we will benefit by increasing our trust in G-d, and conversely we will mitigate our constant worries.
from the November 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine