The Perplexing Tefilah Conundrum – Understanding Human Lack Of Foresight Regarding The Elevated Work Of Prayer

We all lack foresight to one degree or another. However, understanding Tefilah properly poses a much bigger challenge.

I once saw a post which said that when you pray, Hashem has three answers:

  1. Yes
  2. Not yet
  3. I have something better for you

Cuteness aside, there’s some truth to this. Tefilah is a very exalted thing as the sages in the Talmud state in Massechet Brachot. Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan and Likutey Etzot, among other things, that Tefilah can accomplish virtually anything.

Tefilah is above nature and part and parcel of the art of miracle-making. In fact, he adds that all miracles accomplished by Elisha HaNavi were done through prayer.

The problem is, of course, we don’t see things happening. One could stand screaming in Tefilah for hours on end and not a speck of dust would seem to move in the world. Seldom anyone can say they “got their wishes granted” through prayer, and the work of Tefilah is one who suffers the most.

Yet, the Sages (Taanit 2A) impart the wisdom that Tefilah constitutes an offering of the heart. The Hebrew verb for prayer, “Mitpalel,” is reflexive in nature, signifying an act performed upon oneself. Tefilah is a Mitzvah in the most simple sense.

The state of proper prayer nowadays

Regrettably, in contemporary times, many individuals have reduced the profound concept of Tefilah to a mere routine of performing the three daily prayers—Shacharit, Mincha, and Arvit—considering this as fulfilling their daily obligation.

While this may be technically accurate according to Halacha, it raises vital questions about the true nature and deeper significance of prayer.

What does genuine Tefilah entail, and what mysteries does it hold?

Authentic and impactful prayer extends far beyond a catalog of personal requests. It stands as the most potent instrument for effecting transformative change in reality. For women, in particular, it offers an exceptionally direct conduit to connect with Hashem (for men, this avenue is mainly found in Torah study).

Historical accounts suggest that certain Rishonim (early Torah scholars from the 10th to 12th centuries) engaged in Tefillat HaDerech (the prayer for the journey) during their prayers. Why? Because during Tefilah, they achieved a state of mental transcendence, temporarily transcending the physical realm to reach higher spiritual planes.

Descending from such exalted heights was considered pretty dangerous, so they prayed not to suffer from the shock.

In the writings of Rabbi Chaim Vital, the primary disciple of the revered Arizal, he elucidates the overarching purpose of Tefilah as the retrieval of holy sparks that descended from the “breaking of the vessels” prior to the creation of our familiar physical world.

Through Tefilah, as well as all other mitzvot (commandments), we engage in the profound endeavor of identifying these spiritual shards within ourselves and elevating them to their divine source, thereby ushering blessings into both higher and lower realms of existence.

The dynamics of the spiritual worlds

As I previously wrote (in this article), Hashem, in His profound wisdom, structured numerous “spiritual worlds” to act as filters for His boundless Light. Like a silversmith refining his materials, Hashem chose to differentiate the holy from the unholy by “breaking” many of these spiritual realms.

The remnants of these shattered worlds manifest themselves as various “deficiencies” that we encounter in our lives—ranging from health issues and livelihood challenges to concerns about children and relationship difficulties.

We spoke in a few different articles how the purpose of Mitzvot is to rectify the spiritual worlds and their Partzufim. In fact, all lack stems from the fact that these spiritual systems are in a “broken” status (of Tohu) and not in a status of Tikkun (“rectification”).

Hashem obviously wants us to have everything, but part of the “service” is bringing the light to the Partzufim, rectifying them, and causing the desired blessing to come down. As everything must first happen above before it happens below, this is what it truly means to be a “partner of God”. In the worlds of the Ba’al Shem Tov in Tzava’at HaRivash, “one must be pained by the fact that the Shekhina (Malkhut of Atzilut) is suffering”.

Meaning, just like one lacks health, wealth or children, so too there’s an aspect of the Shekhina which is lacking. When we bring this Tikkun above, it automatically comes down.

Hashem sends us problems to fix them through Tefilah. In doing so, we turn to Him which essentially is a rectification of that particular aspect of the sin of Adam HaRishon which caused this problem in the first case.

Tefilah brings down the blessings from the spiritual worlds.

A new approach to Tefilah

Of course, not everything one asks is good. The Gemara (Moed Kattan 18B) brings a classic case when a certain guy wanted to marry a woman he desired. Ravah told the man to cease praying, because it was not a good Tefilah. His argument was that if the woman was meant for him, he’d get her and if not, he should just ask for the one destined for him.

As the man’s prayers remained unanswered and he succumbed to despair, Rava, once again, heard his supplication. This time, the man implored either for himself or the woman to meet their end before her marriage to another. Rava sternly rebuked the man, reiterating his earlier advice: “I cautioned you against such prayers.”

Commentaries provide varying interpretations of Rava’s objections. According to Rashi, Rava’s concern lay in the possibility of the woman’s demise, emphasizing that there are circumstances beyond human influence when it comes to altering one’s designated partner.

In contrast, one of the Tosafot, a disciple of Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, in his work Nimukei Yosef, posits that prayer can indeed influence the course of one’s destined partnership. However, he suggests that such intervention may ultimately lead to a less favorable outcome, as it is in service of facilitating the emergence of the true and intended match.

On a different note, Ritva asserts that prayer and exceptional acts of devotion can, in fact, bring about a change in one’s designated partner without any adverse consequences. Rava’s discouragement, in this view, stemmed from his insight that the proposed match would not be harmonious.

In sum, this Talmudic passage underscores the intricate debate surrounding the influence of prayer on the concept of “zivug” (destined partnership), with diverse perspectives on the potential outcomes of such petitions.

In these and many other cases, what we ask is not for our ultimate good. A car may be used to kill the person who buys it and so it may be for his own benefit that he doesn’t drive.

I think life insurance deserves a mention of honor since so many people praise getting a policy.

Well, here’s the thing, maybe the guy who wants to buy life insurance deserves to die. But Hashem relents it since he’s the family’s main breadwinner and the wife and kids would be left destitute.

Comes life insurance and all problems are solved!

The guy can die and his family will get the money they need. Sure, Hashem could kill a person and still sustain his family without him or life insurance.

But sometimes the blessings we think we get are another form of increasing dinim (judgments). Hashem’s way of acting is primarily centered on minimizing His exposure, and doing things in a “natural way”. So sometimes people are decreed to die in a certain way, or to receive a certain blessing a certain way. Sometimes when a person get a certain benefit, he ends up having to pay it back in another form.

Sometimes all of this has to happen so “the straw breaks the camel’s back”.

Sometimes not getting what you want is the greatest blessing since everything is for the best.

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Tehilim as a form of prayer

I wrote another article where I explain some of the secrets of prayer. And Tefilah can also include Tehilim, by the way.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov elucidated the existence of ten distinct categories of songs, originating from his renowned Tikkun HaKlali, which comprises Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150. These categories are: ashrei, Beracha (blessing), Maskil (the enlightened), Nitzuach, Shir, Niggun, Mizmor, Tefilla, Hoda’ah (thanksgiving), and Halleluyah. These ten psalms hold the power to address and rectify sins of a sexual nature, as expounded upon by several esteemed Kabbalists, including Rabbi Eliezer Papo, the author of Pele Yoetz, and Rabbi Chaim Palagi, the author of Kaf HaChaim.

A valuable resource known as Shimush Tehilim (the utilization of Tehilim), often attributed to the eminent Rishon, HaRav Hai ben Sherira Gaon, delineates numerous potent applications for this cherished book. You can access this resource via the following link: (https://halakhah.com/rst/tehillim.pdf).

While reciting Tehilim indeed carries significance, it is imperative to bear in mind that all salvation and healing ultimately derive from Hashem. It is Hashem whom we should turn to in repentance (Teshuva) unfailingly. The Rambam, in his Laws of Avodah Zarah (Chapter 12), explicitly prohibits the use of Torah verses as incantations, condemning those who “turn the words of the Torah into a cure for the body when they are really a cure for the soul.”

However, he does permit the reading of Torah verses or chapters from Sefer Tehillim by a healthy individual, with the intention that the merit of such reading may protect and safeguard them from difficulties and harm.

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Final remarks

When engaging in Tefilah, it’s not sufficient to merely focus on “what I lack”; we must also inquire into “why I lack it.” Delving deep within ourselves and genuinely embracing the service of the heart can yield profound insights into these questions and guide us into what needs to be done.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, drawing from timeless wisdom, eloquently posited that prayer and Torah study are interconnected facets of spiritual growth. Through Tefilah, one has the potential to expand their consciousness, ascending to higher realms of love, compassion, and wisdom. This should not be underestimated.

In the perspective of Rebbe Nachman, existence itself is imbued with the essence of prayer, and conversely, prayer becomes the essence of living. He imparts the teaching that Tefilah embodies an aspect of Emunah (true faith), as it serves as the conduit to connecting with the Creator.

Within the Breslov tradition, the emphasis on the practice of Hitbodedut (self-seclusion) for a minimum of one hour daily is well-known, for it leads one toward the state of complete surrender before Hashem. Whoever can taste this pleasure properly (and it takes time), will probably want to do it every day.

Rabbi Chaim Vital offers an insightful perspective, highlighting that just as no two days are identical, no two prayers are alike throughout the continuum from the dawn of Creation to the end of time. This uniqueness arises from the fact that with each prayer, we elevate a spiritual spark, accomplishing our designated task.

Therefore, even if it appears that recurring challenges persist, it is possible that either a different spark necessitates elevation or that we have yet to execute the elevation correctly.

From these teachings, a significant lesson emerges: prayer primarily serves as a means for self-reflection, the implementation of necessary personal corrections, and the cultivation of worthiness for the very blessings we seek.

May all your prayers be fulfilled speedily for the best!

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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8 Responses

  1. Hi, it’s Simon again.
    My friend, the assistant of Rav Berland’s (may he live long days and years by the hand of God) student Yissachar Berg, certainly a messenger from God for me, said that it’s very likely that Rav Berland is the Messiah son of David (may it be the Lord’s will).
    Rav Berland has been saying quite a lot recently that this year, 5784, is the year of the revelation of the Messiah son of David.
    What is your opinion on this matter?
    He’s a member of the Davidic dynasty through his father Chaim Berland, a descendant of Rabbi Nachman’s daughter (whom he said the Messiah would descend from), and more may be said.
    Only God knows, and God willing, whether him or not, the Messiah son of David will be revealed very soon in the blink of an eye, and we should merit to give up many offerings to the Lord in His third temple.

    1. hi Simon always happy to hear from you!

      I am good friends with R’ Yissachar and regard him very highly as well.

      Personally, I have qualms about interpreting the words of a Tzadik (especially R’ Berland’s) at face value. Seldom does anyone at such a level actually mean the simplest meaning with his words. It could be he voiced this prediction as a prayer that Hashem should hopefully fulfill or that he wants to accomplish something else, but I have long given up on “hoping” for someone’s interpretations to come true. Whenever Mashiach comes and does his job (of fighting our wars, gathering the exiles and building the Temple), I will know for sure. For now, I prefer to accept I don’t have the full picture and not get disappointed. But I’m hoping.

      R’ Berland may be the Mashiach (either Mashiach ben Yosef or Mashiach ben David, which are 2 different people) due to his great level, and I don’t believe there’s any human being greater than him in our generation. However, this is probably not because he descends from Rebbe Nachman’s daughter, since Jewish lineage follows a patrilineal descent. Meaning, only if throughout the generations his father, father’s father, father’s father’s father and so on go all the way back to King David. Maybe it does, and we don’t know yet.

      As for Rebbe Nachman himself saying that Mashiach would descend from him, this could well be about the secret of Yibur (pregnancy) which is a form of reincarnation that happens during someone’s lifetime. Meaning, that a person who has a strong connection to a Tzadik may receive a part of his soul as if he’s “pregnant” with the deceased Tzadik to assist him in his lifetime. This could very well be what Rebbe Nachman meant that his descendant (i.e. someone with his Yibur) would be the Mashiach since he’s in a way his “spiritual descendant”.

      I believe this is a more plausible theory but I could be wrong, and I’m fine with that.

      Like you, I pray Mashiach should come as fast as possible and that we should be redeemed with the Third Temple.

  2. I have a question about “innovations” in the servitude of God:
    (Also, I’ll just clarify that I’m friends with Yissachar Berg’s assistant, not him himself.)
    The way that we serve God now appears different to how it was in the ancient times, by which I mean that the ancient Israelites had a different sort of way of serving God (same commandments though), that is very different than our current holy “Breslev” traditions (and other traditions as well).
    Is this because as time passes, more is spiritually revealed? For example, Rabbi Nachman had to reveal the general remedy psalms. So does that apply also here, that more “spiritual” matters also are revealed as time passes?
    Because one could make the argument that an ancient Israelite from 3000 years ago would be alien to some of the “Breslev” mannerisms and ways of connecting to God.
    Thanks.

    1. I believe you are right and that people in ancient times had a more advanced understanding of their souls, being able to use special skills, like telepathy and visiting the spiritual worlds a lot more easily. It was not until later that the Tefila of Maariv became obligatory. Some commandments also did change in the sense that they became rabbinic ordinances instead of biblical, like the 7 days of shaking the 4 species on Sukkot and so on. Finally, they probably didn’t have to say the entire order of prayer we have today with the Korbanot/sacrifices, as this part specifically was put in lieu of the actual sacrifices of the Temple people had to bring.

      So our way of service does differ a lot from that of ancient times, especially from the times of the First Temple, in very incredible and stark ways.

      Rebbe Nachman said he was in fact revealing the old way which looks like a new way. I’m pretty sure people knew about the power of the 10 psalms which are now called Tikkun HaKlali, but this probably fell into disuse and was forgotten until he revealed to us again a lot later.

      On the other hand, you are absolutely right that the more time passes, the more things are revealed. This happens in Kabbalah, when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai forbade people to reveal more than a certain level, but the Arizal went and revealed it anyway. Subsequent Kabbalists (like Rebbe Nachman) revealed other teachings which were still hidden in his works. I heard a metaphor by R’ Avraham Sutton, that this is like the curtains of a theater which are slowly being lifted up in the stage.

      However, I still think the quintessential way of approaching God through happiness, dancing, clapping and praying (as emphasized by Breslev tradition), remains the same as it always was. Nevertheless, they did have a greater perception of Him as they had less radiation, pollution, confusion, poison, and all other forms of negative stimuli that blocks the soul – and were much more advanced with using Yichudim and Kavanot.

  3. (This sounds weird, but someone else said this, and I just want to understand what’s real here.)
    Someone (I won’t say who, not that you know them) said that “ghosts” are talking to them, and that they’ve actually seen them in person speak to them. They say some place is “haunted” by ghosts.
    What actually happened (the person, I believe, is telling what they honestly believe) here?
    Are ghosts actually real?
    I ask you as a one knowledgeable in Kabbalistic and spiritual matters.
    Because to help them / advise them / understand what happened, I want to know the Torah perspective.

    1. Ghosts (also known as spirits) are real, as our tradition based on the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar and Kabbalah acknowledges. Most people can’t see them, but some who have developed the skill by training their spiritual organs can. There’s a whole theory and practice on it, which also matches many non-Jewish traditions (like the Chinese).

      Unfortunately modern “science” dismisses the concept of ethereal, sentient energy as hocus pocus, paranoia, or simply chemical imbalances in the brain.

      There are good and bad spirits, and the way to determine this is by testing them with questions. There’s a lot of evidence that most bad entities will refuse to talk about or acknowledge God. They will also lie a lot, be angry, have a passive-aggressive guru-y stance or simply go against the Torah.

      One simple test to do to a person who talks to or sees spirits is to ask him something he would not be able to confirm on his own. If he can answer properly, there’s a high chance he has contact with them, but it’s not absolute.

      I’d be happy to talk to you personally and learn more about this case.

      1. I watched most of a documentary (“AETHERIAL: The Battle for Heaven and Earth” if you’re curious) yesterday, about flat earth, atomic theory, “quantum” sorcery and black magic and demon summoning, with also some anti-Jew sentiments and saying that the Zohar is evil (which I don’t believe). So now I’m more “accepting” of certain aethereal beings and fallen angels.
        I would tell you more about that person from my previous comment’s experience, but they (to avoid specifying sex) told me not to tell anyone. They’re around my age. They seem to be possibly a high-level soul to me, so I advised to pray to God 10 minutes every day and say the Tikun Haklali chapters.
        They did say that the spirits told them information (that he later confirmed) that they didn’t already know.

      2. Thanks for sharing, I haven’t seen this documentary. The little I’ve seen on this topic needs a lot of filtering as there’s also a lot of bogus science mixed with nonsensical spiritual stuff. A lot of things have been hidden so “the masses wouldn’t find out”.
        Seeing spiritual entities is not bad per se. This is a skill that was fairly common a few hundreds of years ago as Rav Chaim Vital writes in his Sefer HaChezionot (book of visions) that many women could see spirits.
        Your advice was good, the best protection is dvekut (bonding) with Hashem, by whatever means. Hitbodedut for 10 minutes and Tikkun HaKlali are great.
        It doesn’t look like your friend was in danger or anything, as long as he doesn’t do something very bad, he will probably be fine.
        As a bonus: Tell him/her also never to give “permission” of any sort or make any deals/contracts.

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