Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Prayer as Acknowledgment - Prayer and Providence.

Several years ago we were learning the subject of Prayer in our weekly group and Rabbi Buchman referred us to a Yalkut Shimeoni on Tehilim chapter 100 on the verse

א מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה: הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
1 A Psalm of thanksgiving. Shout unto the LORD, all the earth.

As we can see the traditional translation of the word תוֹדָה is thanksgiving. Thanking and being grateful is a very laudable trait that people should develop and thanking Hashem for the good He bestows on us is a good tool in developing that trait. The Midrash however suggests a deeper concept that I believe gives prayer a much deeper meaning. Here is the Midrash:

ילקוט שמעוני תהילים רמז תתנד

מכסה פשעיו לא יצליח. ר' שמעון ור' יהושע בן לוי בש"ר שמואל בר נחמני מכל הנטיעות אתה מכסה שרשיהן והן משביחות, האגוז הזה אתה מכסה שרשיו ואינו משביח, משל לליסטים שהיה נידון לפני הקוסטינר כל זמן שהוא מתריס הוא לוקה, הודה הוא נותן פרקילא, אבל הקב"ה אינו כן, אלא עד שלא הודה הוא נותן פרקילא, משהודה נוטל דימוס, הוי ומודה ועוזב ירוחם, א"ר יודא ומודה ע"מ ועוזב ירוחם, כיון שראה משה כן התחיל שורר עליהן מזמור, שנאמר מזמור לתודה . [1]

Rabbis Shimon and Yehoshua ben Levi in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni: All trees when you cover their roots they improve however the walnut tree if you cover its roots it does not improve. A parable: A criminal was brought in front of the prosecutor. As long as he is defiant he is tortured once he admits he gets a punished.[2] God however is different. While a person is in denial he is punished once he admits he receives an amnesty thus the verse “one who admits and repents obtains mercy” (Mishlei 28:13). Rabbi Yehudah says: One who admits so that he should repent obtains mercy. As Moshe understood this he started saying a psalm - מזמור לתודה.

This Midrash introduces the idea that prayer is an admission of wrongdoing and an undertaking to improve one’s ways. The Midrash suggests that the punishment, the bad things that happen to a person, is the result of an incorrect mental state. Once a person acknowledges and realizes that

ג דְּעוּ-- כִּי יְהוָה, הוּא אֱלֹהִים:הוּא-עָשָׂנוּ, ולא (וְלוֹ) אֲנַחְנוּ-- עַמּוֹ, וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתוֹ.
3 Know ye that the LORD He is God; {N} it is He that hath made us, and we are His, His people, and the flock of His pasture.

bad things are no longer bad. Prayer is the daily reinforcement and time to contemplate that the only way that we can try to act correctly is by acknowledging that God is the Creator. That acknowledgement allows us to emulate His ways and partake in His creation. Partaking in Creation can never be bad.

It is not only petitionary prayer that brings us respite. It is contemplative prayer that helps us put things into their proper perspective allowing us to act responsibly. This prayer really falls under the rubric of Providence – Hashgacha.

[1] Also Psikta derav Kahana Buber edition page 159 – (shuva).
[2] I will leave it up to Dave at Balashon and the other distinguished linguists of the blogosphere to give the exact translation of מתריס (shields himself?) and פרקילא (Ransom? See Aruch) however Buber suggests the word should be Specula which mean punishment which I adopted as it makes more sense in context. הקוסטינר (quaestonarius)


  1. This is similar to the Hirschian approach that "tefillah" means self-judgment.

  2. That's interesting,RJM.
    The root can mean "to judge" as in
    אִם-יֶחֱטָא אִישׁ לְאִישׁ, וּפִלְלוֹ אֱלֹהִים, וְאִם לַיהוָה יֶחֱטָא-אִישׁ, מִי יִתְפַּלֶּל-לוֹ; וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ לְקוֹל אֲבִיהֶם, כִּי-חָפֵץ יְהוָה לַהֲמִיתָם.

    It can also mean criminal as in Iyov 31:28
    גַּם-הוּא, עָו‍ֹן פְּלִילִי: כִּי-כִחַשְׁתִּי לָאֵל מִמָּעַל
    & ibid v.11
    כִּי-הוא (הִיא) זִמָּה; והיא (וְהוּא), עָו‍ֹן פְּלִילִים.

    One can see the obvious association of 'to judge'& criminal,but what has criminal have to do with prayer.אתמהא
    Though there are many roots which have opposite meanings e.g. "sakal"& "sikkel",but I wonder if someone like R.Hircsh who specialized in this field ,found any association between 'palal'-prayer;& palal-criminal.

  3. for tefilla The root is Pilel and in the concordancia it has 4 meanings, judge, to bring to mind (leha'alot al hada'at), to beg and to pray. In thehillim we find Vaya'amod pinchas vayefalel which the gemara darshens as judgement.

    The midrash though discusses Hoda'ah which is a type of tefilla that is generally seen as thanking. Here is rambam's in Hil Tefillah 1:6
    ו וכיון שראה עזרא ובית דינו כך, עמדו ותיקנו להם שמונה עשרה ברכות על הסדר: שלוש ראשונות, שבח לה'; ושלוש אחרונות, הודיה;

    The last are thanking for what? You just asked and had no chance to be answered? If youi read it as acknowledgement or admission that all that comes is from God it takes on a more rational construct. The midrash takes it one step further and says that the way you get answered is by acknowledging that the reason you need to ask is because you were not in touch with the One who gives all. Getting in touch will bring respite.

  4. I think,David,you missed the point of my comment.
    First,when I wrote

    "'palal'-prayer;& palal-criminal."
    I meant that the root is פ.ל.ל
    there is of course no 'kal'of it.

    My point was that there are associations between words of the same root even if they have opposite meanings in different binyanim.As e.g. sakal in kal means to stone something ,while in piel -sikkel,means to remove stones. But the idea behind both words in the 2 binyanim has to do with some action with stones.

    You ignore the 2 ref.from Iyov.
    My point was :what associates 'plili','plilim'in Iyov which is derived from the root *palal פלל * meaning -iniquity,criminal & the word for prayer,which comes from the root but is used in piel & hitpael.
    You didn't address this point.

    p.s I don't know which concordance you consulted,but as the ex of Iyov show the root also means 'iniquity-criminal'.
    You can't argue with facts.
    Maybe the con.only refered to the word in verbal form,though you do have in the hifil הפליל I have to check whether it's in Tanach(I think it is ,but I am not sure.I don't have a con handy at the moment).

  5. I understood but I was responding more to TJM than you explaining that Hoda'ah was my focus.

    Now you got me interested and Ibn Shoshan (my Con) has PLL for all except for Iyov 31:28 which has its own Pelili (requires a court's intervention) and Iyov 31:11 under Pelilim. (Noun for Judges)together with Devarim 32:31 and Shemot 21:22.All 3 have some realtionship to judging in common while the other explainations are only under PLL.

  6. According to Klein, the verb תרס means "to shield, protect", and from there "to protest, contradict". Tris תריס comes from Greek, and is related to the English word "door".

    Jastrow has פרקולה as furcilla, furcula (related to "fork") and says it is an instrument of torture that leads to death.

  7. There is currently an interesting debate going on here between A Lakewood Charedi type and an "ex-charedi type"
    http://www.judaismoverhaul.blogspot.com about the pagan theology known as "Kaballah".