The Efficacy of Prayer — Yes, Yours!

Does my tefillah really make a difference? After all, I am painfully aware of my spiritual deficiencies. How effective can my prayers really be?

This question occurs to many of us on a fairly regular basis, and this doubt weakens the resolve of individuals to properly pour out their hearts in tefillah.

In reality, we can’t even fathom the greatness of a tefillah, and powerful proof of this is found in this week’s parashah.

During the glorious days when our nation was able to bring korbanos — whether it was to the Mishkan or Beis Hamikdash — a Jew would take an ordinary animal, verbally designate it as a korban, and the status of that animal would promptly and dramatically change. No visible change would be evident; the animal would continue to look and act the same as all others in the pasture. But from the moment the owner said the words “Harei zeh olah,” this animal became sanctified!

If an animal can become holy because of an utterance by man, how much more is the effect on a person when he utters a single word of tefillah or Torah!

With this fundamental concept, the Tiferes Shlomo explains the second passuk in this week’s parashah: “When a man among you brings a korban to Hashem from the animals — from the cattle or from the flock shall you bring your korban.”

When a person wishes to draw close to Hashem, “from the animals” — he should learn from what occurs to an animal when it is sanctified through a declaration of man, and recognize the spiritual greatness and power of his own words.

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Ultimately, it is the effort, the commitment, the dedication, that really counts.

Teaching the halachos of korban olah, the Torah concludes by describing it as “rei’ach nicho’ach — a pleasing fragrance.” The same words follow the halachos of bringing a bird as a korban olah. Understandably, wealthy people could afford an animal offering, while others could afford only fowl. Rashi tells us that the Torah describes both korbanos the same way to teach us that “one who gives much is the same as one who gives less, as long as his heart is directed towards Shamayim.”

The Torah begins the pesukim about the korban minchah — the flour offering — with the words “V’nefesh ki sakriv — When a soul will bring a meal-offering to Hashem …” Rashi says that the flour offering is the only voluntary offering for which the word “soul” is used. The reason is that it is generally the poor who offer a minchah, and “Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, ‘I consider it as if he offered his soul.’”

The Ribbono shel Olam considers the offering of the poor man who brings only a bird equal to that of the rich man who offers an animal. The flour offering of a minchah, a korban of one who could not even afford a bird, is considered even more worthy in the eyes of Hashem; it is considered as if the poor man offered his very soul!

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Tragically, we still have not merited to resume bringing korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash. As we long eagerly for that time, we are cognizant of the fact that our tefillos are in place of korbanos.

While we must always strive to perfect our davening so it reflects the magnitude of speaking directly to our Creator, for many of us, our davening is far from what it really should be. But this must never hold us back from davening to Hashem, for no tefillah — even when it lacks the proper concentration — goes unheard.

In his sefer Magen Avraham, the Trisker Maggid, zy”a, quotes his father, the Chernobyler Maggid, zy”a, that the Baal Shem Tov said: A Yid may be so busy with his work that he spends the entire day in the markets and streets and nearly forgets that there is a Creator of the World; yet when the time to daven Minchah arrives he sighs in his heart over how he spent the entire day occupied with the futilities of this world. He runs to a corner and davens Minchah, and even though he doesn’t know at all what he is saying, nonetheless, his tefillah is very precious to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and the sigh of such a Yid splits the Heavens.

This is in regard to the tefillah of an individual. How much more so when that tefillah is part of a public mass tefillah!

Tefillah b’tzibbur is comparable to a rubbed out, slightly damaged coin. On its own, most storeowners will reject it, but when included in a pile of coins, it is readily taken together with the rest. When an individual davens as part of a tzibbur,  then in the merit of the public, any imperfections in his kavanah are overlooked.

This coming Sunday, 7 Adar II, Torah Jewry of the greater New York area will gather en masse to daven on behalf of our beleaguered brethren in Eretz Yisrael. It is crucial that each and every one of us recognize the power of his or her tefillah and personally join the masses in Lower Manhattan.

We can’t possibly fathom the impact of every word and every sigh we will utter.

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