“HASHEM said, ‘I shall make all My goodness pass before you, and I shall call out with the Name HASHEM before you; I shall show favor when I choose to show favor, and I shall show mercy when I choose to show mercy.” – Shemos 33:19
The Jewish people had worshiped the golden calf, and Moshe Rabbeinu petitioned HASHEM to save them in the merit of the Avos. Rashi explains that not only was he successful in his mission, he also found great favor in HASHEM’s eyes.
HASHEM then said to him that He was going to reveal one of the great secrets of Creation: “You prayed to Me in the merit of the Avos because you assumed that is the most powerful merit in existence. You should know that if the Jews ever sin and the merit of their fathers isn’t sufficient to save them, there is another method that can carry the day. Teach them to call out the Thirteen Attributes of HASHEM’s mercy. By their mentioning My compassion, I will answer them.”
This Rashi is very difficult to understand. HASHEM is teaching Moshe a system for the Jews to save themselves when things are very bleak. Clearly, we are dealing with a serious moment in history, a time when the Klal Yisrael has fallen so low that even their prayers and the merit of the Avos aren’t sufficient to save them. If the prayers of the Jewish nation aren’t enough, and even the merit of the Avos have been used up, how could simply saying thirteen words change the judgment?
How tefillah works
The answer to this question lies in understanding how prayer works.
From an objective standpoint, one of the most basic questions that a person can ask himself is: why daven? “I accept that HASHEM is more merciful and loving than any creation. I accept that HASHEM loves me ten thousand times more than any human being is capable of and that HASHEM only wants what is best for me. So why do I need to daven? If what I am davening for were in my best interests, HASHEM would have granted it to me. If HASHEM didn’t grant it, it must be that it isn’t for my best. If so, why pray?”
The answer to this question is that there are different systems to davening, each providing a separate mechanism through which tefillah works.
#1 The growth system
The first system of davening is the “growth system.” By davening, I change. By reaching out to my Creator, I reach a different perspective and understanding, and the tefillah makes me into a different person. Before I davened, I might not have deserved what I was asking for. Now, after months and months of begging, beseeching, and imploring, I have changed. The person standing at the beginning of this process didn’t deserve what he was asking for, but through the tefillah I grew and am now worthy of what I asked for. This is the first system of davening, where davening changes me.
The other system of tefillah
There is another of tefillah.
HASHEM created the world with the attributes of din (justice) and rachamim (mercy) in a fine balance. Din is proper. Din is truth. Din, however is very demanding. It allows no room for error and no room for having a bad day. You are responsible for what you did. If din alone were in operation, very few if any people would exist. Rachamim mitigates din. You have to understand where the person is coming from. What they were going through. Both din and rachamim are at work, both are in a fine balance.
HASHEM created man and put him in a place where there are many things that pull at him. Life is a fierce battle, with every situation hand-crafted to challenge man.
This situation is fraught with danger. Man can and will slip. It is almost inevitable. For that reason, HASHEM in his infinite mercy created a fail-safe plan. If all else fails, pull this lever and you will be safe.
It isn’t based on changing the person praying, or on the merits of others. It is almost a safety hatch that HASHEM created, which changes the system of judgment. It moves the slide-rule from the middah of justice to the middah of mercy. I don’t change, what I did, doesn’t change – the system of judgment changes.
This seems to be the answer to the question. It was as if HASHEM was saying to Moshe, “If it ever turns out that the Jewish nation fails and there is no hope left, when even the merit of their fathers is no longer sufficient, I want you to know that there is another system. It isn’t based on them or the merit of any person; it is based on the mercy of HASHEM. Say these words, and it will move the system of judgment from strict justice to mercy.
Understanding how davening works is essential for us to appreciate its impact and how much it can affect our lives and those that we care about.
If you would like to learn more about davening, click here to download The Tefillah Project
Over To You
Tell us about a time when felt davening change you. Comment below!
This is an excerpt from the Shmuz on the Parsha book.