Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You Can't Always Get What You Want, So Don't Ask (for too much) - Tuesday Kavvanah, 4/24/2012

Did you notice? Morning minyan for the past week and a half (since Pesah) has been SIX WORDS shorter! Truly amazing! I have accomplished so much with that extra time.

From whence comes the savings? There are two places in the Amidah where we no longer ask for rain (in Israel). Well, actually only one of them is a request; the other is a mere mention. At the beginning of the Gevurot  paragraph, the second berakhah of the Amidah, we have been saying the following since Shemini Atzeret:

מַשִּׁיב הָרוּחַ וּמורִיד הַגָּשֶּׁם
Mashiv haruah umorid hagashem.
God causes the wind to blow and the rains to fall.

And we have been making the following request since Dec. 4:
וְתֵן טַל וּמָטָר לִבְרָכָה
Veten tal umatar livrakhah
And give us dew and rain as a blessing
The first has been eliminated completely, and the second shortened to the perfunctory and vague veten berakhah / give us blessing.

Why the change?  There is a rabbinic principle (e.g. Mishnah Berakhot 9:3) that one should not offer a tefillat shav, a prayer in vain. That is, we cannot request something from God that cannot naturally occur, like rain in Israel during the summer, or that one's 2-year-old will not throw a tantrum when denied a lollipop.

As a guiding principle to tefillah, I have found that it is more effective to think of statutory prayer as maintenance rather than asking for things that you do not have.  Isn't it wonderful, say the words of the siddur, that the sun came up this morning, that I had the energy to get dressed and venture out, that I had food on my plate, and that this world is filled with unmeasurable quantity of blessing.

There is always a place for making requests outside of the traditional framework, but it is nonetheless a good idea to consider very carefully what we ask for; the reasonable request has a better chance of being heard.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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