"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to Climb the Ladder of Prayer

(This article is presented in honor of 19 Kislev.
For articles on 19 Kislev from previous years, see here and here.)

How to Climb the Ladder of Prayer

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The key to ascent—bittul
“And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was fixed in the earth, and its head reached the heavens.”[1] The Zohar states[2] that this alludes to the ladder of prayer. Prayer is constructed like a ladder, where one starts at the lowest rung and rises ever higher, until one can reach the greatest heights.

In particular, the ladder of prayer is said to have four rungs—the four sections of Shacharis, the Morning Prayer, through which one’s soul rises up through the four spiritual worlds, respectively:
  • Tefillas HaShacharAsiyah
  • Pesukei DeZimrahYetzirah
  • The blessings of Shema/ShemaBeriyah
  • Shemoneh EsreiAtzilus
Every ascent is attained through bittul, self-nullification. Thus, in order for the person to rise up to a higher level, he needs to toil in bittul, nullifying himself to Hashem in the way expected of him while on his current level. In the context of prayer, this means that one starts on the lowest level, the world of Asiyah, and in order to rise to the next level, the G–dliness of the world of Yetzirah, one must engage in the hisbonenus that connects one’s soul with the G–dliness of the world of Asiyah. Then the soul can rise to establish a connection with the world of Yetzirah, whereupon the person must engage in the hisbonenus that connects his soul with the G–dliness of the world of Yetzirah ... and so on.

Tefillas HaShacharAsiyah
We begin prayer with the declaration, “Acknowledge Hashem.” The beginning of prayer is a general, all-encompassing acceptance of Hashem, before one has reached true understanding of Him. This parallels the world of Asiyah, action. This represents the concept that the beginning of divine service is obedience, “we will do” before “we will hear [understand].”[3] At this point one lacks inspiration and enthusiasm, for one when one is just beginning, he has by definition not yet invested the necessary effort to reach such a feeling, for that is a more advanced stage.

Pesukei DeZimrah—Yetzirah
In this section the Jew declares Hashem’s praises[4] with the goal of inspiring and exciting himself from Hashem’s greatness. Although this involves a certain degree of comprehension of Hashem’s greatness, this comprehension is lacking, and the main focus is to arouse a feeling of excitement. The reason that the comprehension is lacking is that in Pesukei DeZimrah we reflect upon how wondrous is Hashem’s creation of yesh mei’ayin, something from nothing, and this is a concept that is fundamentally beyond human comprehension.

It should be noted that according to Chassidus, yesh mei’ayin does not mean that the world was literally created from nothing. Rather, the world was created from a level of G–dliness that is like nothing in comparison to our world, for it exists on a plane of existence that is so vastly superior that we cannot relate to it at all; thus, for us, it is as if it is non-existent.

The reason that we cannot truly comprehend the process of creation yesh mei’ayin is that comprehending something implies internalizing it, and if we would truly understand how our existence stems from a level of G–dliness that is so far beyond us, we would become so overwhelmed that we would lose our sense of independent existence.

Yet although we do not truly understand the process of yesh mei’ayin, reflecting upon it inspires us with wonder and excitement. Thus, Pesukei DeZimrah means literally “verses of song,” for song represents arousing a superficial excitement. Since at this stage one has not reached true understanding, this only refines one’s inner self on an external level;[5] however, this paves the way for one to rise to the next level of inner change.

This also ties in with the second meaning of Pesukei DeZimrah, to “prune,” referring to the “pruning of the thorns”[6] from the Bestial Soul.[7] Just as a vineyard has thorns, which suck the moisture from the ground and ruin the vineyard, so is it with the Jewish people, who are compared to a vineyard. The thorns that obstruct the Neshamah from rising up to the greatest heights are words of idle chatter and mockery, even when spoken without pleasure. Likewise, thinking forbidden thoughts, or looking at forbidden sights, even when one does so without pleasure, contaminates the soul and prevents it from rising to Hashem.

This is the purpose of Pesukei DeZimrah—to excite the Jew with G–dliness and thereby “prune” these Kelipos (negative energies) from him.

This section of prayer corresponds to the world of Yetzirah and connects us with the spirituality of that world, for there the focus of the angels is to sing Hashem’s praises with intense emotional excitement.

Based on Toras Menachem 5712, Vol. 6, p. 137 ff.
Sefer HaMa’amarim 5708, pp. 80-81. Cf. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5668, p. 5 ff.

[1] Bereshis 28:12.
[2] 1:266b. 3:306b.
[3] This was the declaration with which the Jewish people committed themselves to follow the Torah. See Shemos 24:7; Shabbos 88a.
[4] Cf. Berachos 32a. Avoda Zara 7b.
[5] In the original, one makes a “chakikah kelalis,” an “external engraving.”
[6] Cf. Yeshaya 25:1. Zohar 3:284a.
[7] Likkutei Torah, Bechukosai 47d. Ibid., Nitzavim 51d.

This post was dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaya Nechomoh), and by Yisroel Meir Raphael and family. Also dedicated by Dov Oliver in honor of the yahrtzeit of our grandfather OBM, Reb Shmuel Oliver.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment! :)