It is very helpful to spend a few seconds before each tefilah thinking about the precious gift of being able to speak directly to Hashem (“Atah”): that He is listening to what we are about to say and think, and to remind ourselves of what Tefilah is really about.
The Chovos HaL’vavos in a few succinct words writes what Tefilah is all about. The first item he mentions is for our souls to yearn for connection to Hashem. HaRav Moshe Wolfson shlita writes in his sefer VaAni Tefilah, that the word “tefilah” actually means “connection.” He learns this from the Gemara in Maseches K’subos (daf 62b). He writes that when we pour out our hearts, recognizing that only Hashem can help us with anything and everything we need, that brings us closer and more connected to Hashem, which is the purpose of all the mitzvos. This d’veikus is the purpose of tefilah as well, and is perhaps the mitzvah that provides us with the greatest natural potential to feel and deepen that connection.
HaRav Avigdor Miller zt”l understands the meaning of the word tefilah as thought. He learns this from the pasuk in B’reishis 48:11, where Yaakov Avinu says to his son Yosef, “I had not thought (“filalti”) it possible that I would see your face.” This dovetails beautifully with the purpose of d’veikus mentioned above, since ultimately d’veikus is thinking about Hashem. We certainly cannot connect physically. So what is our attachment and connection to Hashem? It is thought and thought-driven emotion.
HaRav Samson Raphael Hirsch zt”l, commenting on the word “filalti,” writes that the word is related to the root-word of “bilel,” which means to introduce a foreign element into a substance and integrate it therein to such a degree that the whole becomes one substance. He then writes that “pileil” means: “to inject a spiritual element into thoughts to infuse them with an idea, a truth, a principle, etc., and thereby integrate and unify them.” They become a part of us as we live those truths and principles.
Tefilah, then, means: to infuse the heart with truths that come from outside oneself. In the words of HaRav Hirsch: “to steep oneself with lasting, eternal truths, precisely because they are likely to wane and fade away in one’s consciousness, or may have already disappeared.”
Without delving deeply into each item, the Chovos HaL’vavos lists four other purposes of tefilah: to humble ourselves before Hashem (by increasing our awareness), to recognize Hashem’s awesome power and exaltedness, to thank and praise Hashem for His abundant loving kindness, and to remind ourselves that He is the only address for all our needs.
In summation, we can say that each and every tefilah is a tremendous opportunity to internalize and integrate a bit more deeply the basic fundamentals of our existence and purpose in the world – to enhance and deepen, with thought and emotion, our awareness, awe, love, and connection to Hashem just a drop more than it was before this tefilah. If we think for just a minute or less about the opportunity we are about to embark upon, before we begin each tefilah and each brachah of Shemoneh Esrei, we may be amazed at how certain phrases in tefilah, which we haven’t focused on before, now jump off the pages of our siddur into our minds and then into our hearts. We may begin to notice a change occurring within us as we deepen the intellectual truths and principles that comprise the purposes of tefilah as outlined by the Chovos HaL’vavos, and continue to convert intellectual knowledge into reality by changing how we think, speak, and act.
May we be zocheh, b’ezras Hashem, to greater d’veikus through our tefilos.
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You can direct any questions or comments to Eliezer Szrolovits at 917-551-0150.