I’ll Get By With a Little Help

Praying with TefillinWelcome to today’s “bonus” meditation.

Teshuvas Torah L’Shmah was asked whether a person who would not be able to concentrate while davening (praying) should daven or not. Seemingly, if he will not be able to concentrate he should be exempt since sefarim write that davening without concentration is comparable to a body without a soul. Accordingly, if he is unable to concentrate he should not daven. He responded that one who is distracted and consequently incapable of davening with proper concentration should nevertheless daven since we do not push aside the mitzvah just because of his difficulty. He then adds that someone who does not know the inner meaning or kabbalistic intent that is supposed to accompany a mitzvah is not exempt from that mitzvah. A person is expected to do what he can and even without that additional intent the mitzvah is considered fulfilled without any defect whatsoever.

Even though the individual does not know how to properly focus his thoughts on davening, God will supplement what is lacking.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Should a person daven if he cannot properly concentrate?”
Chullin 31

In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi sets down the fundamentals of the chabad-chassidic approach to life. On the cover page of this “bible of chabad-chassidism” he defines his work as follows:

“Based on the verse, `For it [the Torah and its precepts] is something that is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it’ – it explains, with the help of G-d, how it is indeed exceedingly close, in a long and short way.”

Chabad Commentary on Chapter 2
The Ethics of Our Fathers
“The Long But Short Of It”
Tammuz 25, 5771 * July 27, 2011

If you are a person of faith, your highest desire is to draw closer to God and do to what will please Him. Any son or daughter wants to not only obey their father but to do what will make him happy. So it is between us and our Father in Heaven.

So what’s the problem? We are.

To continue from the Chabad commentary for Pirkei Avot Chapter 2:

The Torah and its mitzvos are the Creator’s blueprint for creation, detailing the manner in which He meant life to be lived and His purpose in creation to be fulfilled. But is a life that is ordered utterly by Torah indeed feasible? Can the ordinary “Everyman” be realistically expected to conduct his every act, word and thought in accordance with Torah’s most demanding directives?

…a person may argue: Why spend a lifetime pursuing this demanding regimen of mind and heart? Why must I toil to understand and feel? Why not take the direct approach–open the books and follow instructions? I’m a simple Jew, he may maintain, and the attainment of such lofty spiritual states as “comprehension of the Divine”, “love of G-d” and “awe of G-d” are way beyond my depth. I know the truth, I know what G-d wants of me—the Torah spells out the dos and don’ts of life quite clearly.

Despite the previous quote, sometimes we don’t really understand what God wants. Sometimes we don’t know how to pray. Sometimes we aren’t sure how to do our best. Sometimes we wonder, couldn’t God make loving Him “with all our heart, mind, and strength” just a little bit more straightforward? After all, I’m no saint or holy man. I’m just a regular person.

But God has an answer for that.

The Torah itself is quite clear on the matter: “For the mitzvah which I command you this day,” it states, “it is not beyond you nor is it remote from you. It is not in heaven… nor is it across the sea… Rather, it is something that is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it.” (Deut. 30:11-14) Torah’s vision of life is not an abstract ideal, nor a point of reference to strive toward, but an achievable goal.

God does not expect more of us than we are capable of giving. Our problem is often we do not believe we are capable of what God expects. Some churches compound the problem by “dumbing-down” what God requires, using “grace” as the back door out of taking personal responsibility for our behavior. God does cut us some slack, but not by simply removing the mitzvot (commandments) we think are too difficult for us.

Like the person who cannot pray because he cannot concentrate, when we have truly made our best effort, God will “supplement what is lacking” in us. After all, He knows what we are lacking because He designed us. We also have this:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. –Romans 8:26-27

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. –Hebrews 4:14-16

Praying ChildEven though we are lacking. Even though we can barely speak let alone pray, God has provided for our every need, even when we cannot see hope illuminating the darkness. Just have one simple desire as you turn to Him:

[Rabbon Gamliel the son of Rabbi Judah HaNassi] would say… Make that His will should be your will… –Ethics of the Fathers, 2:4

Jesus expressed the most important focus of our lives this way:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” –Mark 12:28-33

Finally, when you pray, pray like this:

The ultimate prayer is the prayer of a small child.

You pray to some lofty concept of The Infinite Light or The Essence of Being or…

But the child doesn’t have any concept. Just G-d.

From the wisdom of the Rebbe
Menachem M. Schneerson
as compiled by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman in his book
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

Good Shabbos.

2 thoughts on “I’ll Get By With a Little Help”

  1. I like this post. I’m also reading the book ( Bringing Heaven Down to Earth) and have enjoyed its little amaizing titbits of wisdom. Thank you for the referrence, would not have hear of it otherwise.

  2. I’m glad you like the book and the blog, Michelle. Rabbi Freeman’s presentation of the Rebbe’s wisdom gives me a small taste of what he must have been like. He had the sort of understanding of people and of God that I can see just about anyone being taken with his kindness and compassion. His passing was a great loss to humanity but he fortunately left behind his teachings and the Rabbis who studied what he taught and who knew him.

    Blessings and Good Shabbos.

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