This week’s pararsha illustrates the power of prayer, and especially – regular prayers. What is regular prayer, and how is it different from irregular prayer? What is included in the designating a spot for prayer, and what is the reason for it? How does having a spot for prayer make our prayers that much more powerful? How is a designated spot for prayer connected to Avraham Avinu? Why are our regular thrice-daily prayer so precious to G-d, and what does that consistency demonstrate? Of this and more, in the coming article.
In this week’s parasha we read how Avraham Avinu prayed to save the people of Sodom. Avraham’s prayers receive significant coverage in the Torah – ten full psukim are spent detailing the exact prayer: “And Avraham approached and said, ‘Will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city; will You even destroy and not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty righteous men who are in its midst?… Far be it from You! Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?…. Please, let the Lord’s wrath not be kindled, and I will speak yet this time, perhaps ten will be found there’” (Bereshis 18:23-32).
There are myriads of lessons to be learned from this prayer and its inner meanings, but here we will focus on a seemingly insignificant aspect – the spot where he prayed. The location where he prayed is also mentioned, and is therefore apparently of importance. The Torah tells us that the following morning he went out to “…The place where he had stood before the Lord” (Bereshis 19:27). Avraham Avinu not only prayed to Hashem, but he also designated a regular spot for his prayers, returning to pray the next morning at that very same spot.
The Gemara goes further. We are told (Berachos 7b) that one who designates a regular spot for his prayers, merits innumerable blessings: his foes fall before him, and after his death the ministering angels search for him, calling him humble, pious and a disciple of Avraham Avinu.
A public spot for regular prayer is also of great importance. King David writes that he wanted to build the Mikdash because “…And I will plant them, and they will dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and the wicked people shall not continue to afflict them as formerly” (Shmuel II 7:10). When the nation has a designated spot for prayers their enemies can no longer torment them as before.
In this article we will cite many reasons why prayer in a fixed spot, even for one who davens at home, is so important
Praying in a Designated Spot
The Ari Hakadosh (noted in several sources: Hagan L’yom, Shla, Beshalach, Torah Or 3; Shoftim 24) explains that when the Mikdash stood in Jerusalem, prayers ascended through it. Today, since it has sadly been destroyed, there is an iron wall preventing prayers from ascending, and there are spiritual prosecutors standing in the way. Concentrated effort is necessary to break through the barrier, but the prayers of one who prays in a regular spot ascend without effort, and prosecutors cannot prevent them from being answered. The Ari compares it to one who tries to break through a wall. If he knocks on the wall on a different spot every day, the wall will never break. But one who knocks on the wall at the same spot every day will eventually be able to break through the wall. Then, he’ll be able to pass through at that point whenever he wishes.
While the example is clear, in reality it remains baffling. What does a regular prayer spot do for prayers, and why is it so potent, much more potent than prayer in any random spot?
Two Kinds of Prayer
To explain this we will mention a concept we have discussed several times in the past but deserves to be mentioned again.
Prayer is an umbrella term which actually includes two very different things, although we tend to mix them up. One is regular, thrice-daily prayer, which follows the text composed by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola. The other is personal prayer, recited every time a person finds himself in need. The difference can be illustrated with a fable:
A man comes to the rabbi and asks him if he can smoke during prayers. The rabbi is obviously aghast at the preposterous question and the answer is self-understood — of course smoking during davening is forbidden and inappropriate! But then the same man asks the same question differently: “When I go out to smoke, I think about myself and my family, and then I ask G-d to please protect them and give them everything they need. Is that permitted?” To this question, the answer is obviously in the affirmative – of course one can pray to G-d every single moment of his life.
There are designated times for formal prayer in which we stand before G-d the King of the universe and conduct ourselves accordingly. These times are set, and the text we recite is that composed by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola. This prayer should preferably be recited in a shul with a minyan, in a regular spot, and this is what helps us maintain a regular connection with G-d.
Then there is another form of prayer. This prayer is an ongoing conversation with G-d in which one, upon every difficulty, even a minor one, he meets up with, should connect with G-d and ask for help and salvation. With this form of prayer we form a real connection with G-d and internalize His protection and assistance in every step we take.
Many times people might say they have a hard time with regular daily prayer, but reassure themselves saying they’re constantly talking to G-d in their own words. While maintaining this form of prayer is praiseworthy, the first form is imperative.
Then there are those who suffer from the same malady, but in reverse: they have no problem showing up for davening three times a day, but never do they turn to G-d for assistance in their everyday difficulties. These people, like the previous ones, miss out on a focal element of our human connection with G-d. While both are called prayer, they are essentially two separate activities, and one cannot be considered spiritually alive without both.
To understand the difference between the two we can compare it to the mitzva of Torah study. The mitzva includes two obligations – Kvius ittim: setting aside time for regular daily Torah study; and “…You shall meditate therein day and night” (Yehoshua 1:8) — Torah study must take up our entire lives, all day long.
After this introduction, we will explain why designating a regular spot for prayer is important, and how the Gemara’s promises are related to it.
Regular Prayer Virtues
The Zohar (Tikkunei Zohar 6:21a) explains that one who designates a spot for Torah study and prayer creates a place where his neshama connects with G-d. This gives the Shechinah a physical resting place in this world. Prayer or Torah study that occur in random, irregular spots, does not accomplish that.
Similarly, the Maharal writes (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Ha’avoda chapter 4) that prayer is essentially connecting with G-d and this d’veikus (devotion) must be continuous, not random in order to become permanent. Designating a spot for prayer shows that all one’s prayers are connected – they are united as part of an ongoing dedication and devotion to G-d. Then, every time one reaches out to G-d in prayer it is not a fleeting, passing occurrence, but rather part of a regular, ongoing connection.
This, explains the Maharal, is the connection of one who designated a fixed spot to Avraham Avinu. Avraham Avinu exemplified pure and utter devotion to G-d, and his whole life was dedicated to doing G-d’s Will. G-d, in turn, responded in kind, describing Himself as the “G-d of Avraham”. The Gemara describes one who designates a regular spot for prayer as “a humble pious man” — he is wholly devoted to his Creator who merits having “G-d of Avraham is with him” at all times, and “his foes fall before him”. However, one who appears at prayer only occasionally, and not three times a day as part of a relationship, calls for every prayer to be judged on in its own merit, if it should be accepted or not.
The Shevus Yaakov (Iyun Yaakov, Berachos 6b) brings out a different point. He writes that prayer must not be a job or item on one’s to-do list that needs to be checked off and taken care of. Rather, prayer should be a privilege, an opportunity to be relished to connect with G-d. One who prays in random occasional places expresses his desire to finish praying. But one who makes the effort to go to his regular prayer spot shows prayer is part of his life, not a burden to finish with. This expression of regularity shows the connection to prayer and G-d.
Many Achronim (Mabit – Beis Elokim Sha’ar Hatefila 5; Tzlach – Brachos 6b; Nesivos – Emes L’Yaakov, Brachos 6b, and others) explain that designating a spot for prayer connects yesterday’s prayer with today’s. The physical material world prevents our prayers from ascending. Praying in a spot consecrates it, allowing prayers to pass through the physical with more ease. This is why we direct our prayers to the Makom Hamikdash, and face that direction.
The Sefas Emes gives a fourth reason. He reasons that we need the zechus of our Patriarchs for our prayers to be accepted. This is why we always mention them in the beginning of tefilla. By connecting to them and the entirety of the Jewish Nation we merit having our prayers accepted. One who has a regular spot for praying will be helped by the “G-d of Avraham” Who will come to his aid since he connected himself to Avrohom.
Exalting and Sanctifying G-d’s Name
The Ba’al Ha’akeida explains (Bamidbar 72) that before Avraham Avinu taught the world about G-d, each person who wanted something would pray to whichever god he thought could assist him. The god of war was called upon before going to war; the god of prosperity — before doing business. In their prayers they expected to have their wishes granted, an ATM machine of sorts – push the prayer, grant a wish.
Avraham Avinu taught the world that all our desires must be directed to only One Source, because it all comes from Him. Furthermore, he taught them that prayer to G-d is not a means for receiving what we want – it is a means for creating a living connection with G-d that allows us to fulfil our mission in the world. In our prayers we ask G-d to bless us with the energies and ability to realize our potential. We direct our prayers to only One Entity, and our prayers must be in only one place.
Praying Instead of Service
The Shulchan Aruch (98:4) writes another reason for designating a set place for tefilla: prayer today substitutes for sacrifices. Just as they must be offered in a very specific, prearranged spot and manner, so too our prayer should be regular, designated, and structured.
Before the Mikdash was built in Jerusalem every person could build his own makeshift altar and offer personal sacrifices – service of G-d could take on any form one wished. But the ultimate service of G-d is in the Mikdash: “But only to the place which the Lord your G-d shall choose from all your tribes, to set His Name there; you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there” (Devarim 12:5). And there, service had a set, prearranged, and well-coordinated structure. Since we aim to subordinate our own desires to those of G-d, also in serving Him our actions must be according to His specifications, not our own. This also explains why prayer should preferably be in a predesigned spot, not in a random, inspiring-as-it-may-be spot.
Praying Without Distractions
Rabbenu Yona (Brachos 3b) writes that the reward for designating a spot for prayer isn’t limited just to the physical spot but also to the general surroundings –one must ensure that his prayer spot is free of distractions and allows for full concentration. The Rashba adds that this halacha has hidden reasons, but the revealed one is simple — a regular spot is conducive for better concentration, while in a random spot one easily becomes distracted.
Obviously, turning one’s phone off, or even better — leaving it outside of shul – is included in this halacha.
The Imrei Bina writes that even one who prays at home (such as ladies) should have a regular spot for praying to make it is easier to concentrate.
We learned of the importance of regularity in prayer – both in praying and in the spot used for it. Although spontaneous prayer is also required, setting aside a specific time for nothing but prayer is equally important as it allows us to cultivate a vibrant connection with G-d. Designated time for prayer allows us to connect with all the prayers of the rest of the Jewish nation, and therefore should take place in shul, together with a minyan. Since our prayers connects us with the rest of Am Yisroel and our forefathers, we begin by invoking our Patriarchs’ merit, and use the carefully structured formula penned by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola. This allows for all our prayers to consolidate as our singular mission – to fulfil G-d’s Will.
Prayer in a regular spot also demonstrates our view of prayer as primarily an opportunity to connect to Hashem, and not a spiritual ATM machine to grant our wishes, which is secondary.