Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver
The highest point of Tefillah is the Shemoneh Esrei, in which we beseech Hashem for our needs. In so doing, we recognize and further reinforce the tenet of faith that we are totally dependent upon Hashem for all our blessings, and that only “the blessing of Hashem makes one wealthy.”
But exactly what should you plead for? The simple answer: Whatever you feel that you’re lacking. But how is this defined?
Before analyzing this question, consider whether your goals in life are pure, because if they are tainted, then your prayer will also be tainted.
We can understand this by considering the extreme case mentioned by our sages: A thief can be standing at the entrance to a tunnel, poised to commit a burglary, and yet pray to Hashem to crown his endeavor with success! Now, to any normal ear, aside from constituting outrageous insolence, this “prayer” is the height of foolishness and absurdity. For if one is callously violating Hashem’s commandment, how could he reasonably expect Hashem Himself to grant his plea?! It’s akin to asking someone to hand you a dagger so that you can stab him! Of course, you’d naturally regard such a person as irrational and foolish, confident that you would never stoop to such depravity yourself. Right?
Wrong. Many of us are guilty of the same kind of behavior, albeit in a less blatant form.
One example of a self-contradictory request in Tefillah can be presented by the businessman.
The Torah strictly forbids any dishonesty whatsoever in one’s business dealings, calling for the highest standards of integrity. If, however, one is doing business in some sort of questionable manner, then his request to Hashem for success is similarly self-contradictory. Yes, he correctly recognizes that his livelihood comes from Hashem, but he is asking Hashem to bless his efforts ... to defy Hashem’s will!
Moreover, his very request indicates the selfish, G–dless focus of his life. Yes, Torah requires that one work in order to earn a living, and thereby make a vessel for Hashem’s blessings within the natural order, as it is written, “Hashem will bless you in everything that you do.” However (to state the obvious that is all too easy to lose sight of), the work is not the end in itself; it is not the purpose of our creation and brief sojourn on earth. Rather, Hashem declares, “I made the earth, and I created man upon it.” The expression “I created,” בראתי, has the same numerical value of 613, for the purpose of creation is the fulfillment of the 613 Mitzvos.
One who is conscious of the primary importance of Mitzvos will only engage in mundane activities “for the sake of Heaven,” in order to enable him to perform the Mitzvos and refine the sparks of holiness (see here) that lie in his livelihood. Since he genuinely desires to fulfill Hashem’s will, he will not use means to pursue a livelihood that are repugnant to Hashem, and that constitute a rebellion against Him, may Hashem save us.
 Mishlei 10:22.
 Berachos 63a.
 The Gemara even exhorts us (Makkos 24a) to “speak the truth in one’s heart” (Tehillim 15:2) by relating the story of Rav Safra, who was approached in his store while in the midst of praying with an offer for a purchase. But since he was praying, he didn’t respond. The customer raised his bid, thinking that Rav Safra had turned down his offer. When Rav Safra finished praying, he told the customer that he would sell the item for the original amount, because in his heart he had then accepted that lower offer.
 Devarim 15:18.
 Yeshayah 45:12.
 Avos 2:12.
Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).
Also dedicated by the Braunstein and Rona families in honor of Shlomo ben Pesach on 8 Sivan.
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