By Mrs. Chanah Rose
We are all familiar with the dream that Yaakov Avinu had at the foot of Har Hamoria, with the powerful imagery of a “sulam mutzav artzah v’rosho magiah hashamayma1 בראשית, כח:יב a ladder standing upon the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens.” Chassidus tells us very clearly that this ladder represents Tefilla. With our feet firmly planted on the ground, through Tefilla, we can reach the heavens.2 היום יום ה’ כסלו
The rungs of the ladder are the different sections of Davening. By understanding their roles, sequence, and deeper meanings, we can better climb that ladder in our daily journey to transcend the mundane and reach the highest of heights.
The four main sections of Tefillas Shacharis also correspond to the four oilamois, the four worlds of Asiya, Yetzira, Beriah and finally Atzilus3 היום יום ה’ כסלו. How do we climb this ladder from our lowly world all the way up to be closer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu than the angels?
In Birchos Hashachar, we open our eyes, we shake off our sleep, and we slowly become mindful of our physical life and the manifold blessings we experience each moment. We can wake up, we are alive! Our organs all work as they should, Baruch Hashem! We have clothes to wear, we have the strength to stand, we have freedom from bondage and all of our physical needs are met. Already, at the very same time as we become conscious of our physical world, we transcend it, by attributing our blessings to Hashem and humbling ourselves in gratitude.
We are now ready for the Pesukei Dizimrah, the words of praise. We spend paragraphs and pages of the Siddur describing in great eloquence the beauty of the world around us, the grandeur of Hashem’s world, and His kindness in providing for all living things – enough to make an animal sing out in awe. Well, that’s the point! By dwelling on the utter beauty and perfection of Hashem’s creation, we are talking a language that our inner animal can understand. He is listening, he is inspired, and he is ready for more!
The Birchos Krias Shema take us higher, making us privy to the praises that the angels are singing. Wow, now the animal soul is impressed! A beautiful article by Y. Heschel Greenberg, “What is Prayer?”, refers to this as peer pressure4 After all, Malachim are also called animals, since they are instinctive beings that do not progress or change in their Avodas Hashem. (See full article on Chabad.org.). A person can say to their children, their students, or themselves, “Let’s put a listening ear to Shamayim to hear what the Malachim are saying,” and discover that the Malachim are absolutely enraptured by the greatness of Hashem! Just listen in, learn the meaning of the words, and realize that you, too, have access to the incredible inspiration and awe-inspiring privilege of being close to Hashem.
And then comes Shema. With all this preparation, our animal soul is fully on board to join the G-dly soul in truly loving Hashem, “with all of your soul, all of your heart, and all of your might.” Exploring the many and layered explanations of Shema and V’Ahavta will give ourselves and our students much to think about. After all, Rebbetzin Rivka was known to spend over 20 minutes drawing out the words of Shema in meditation!
The words “bchol livavcha” bring this message home, because the double letter veis in livavcha indicates that we have two hearts, two souls, and two selves that it is our task to unite in the single-minded purpose of love and awe of Hashem. Through giving voice to our Nefesh HaElokis, and speaking convincingly to the Nefesh Habehamis, we can achieve this in some measure every time we pray. In this way, it is truly “our time to shine.”
Thus, when it is time for Shemoneh Esrai, we are at the top of the ladder, there is no more separation between us and Hashem, and we are completely bottul to the Aibershter. We are one5Why do we spend this holiest of Tefillos largely on bakashos, requests to Hashem? For the answer, see the Rebbe’s famous sicha about Tefillas Chana and the Tefillos of Rosh Hashana (ליקוטי שיחות חלק י”ט). .
And do we come tumbling off the ladder when we finish Davening? It may seem that way, but the Tanya6 פרק י”ב teaches us differently. Once we have climbed this ladder, we are a different person for the rest of the day; there is a roshem, an impression upon us, that remains. Our Neshama has had its moment in the light. Our Nefesh Habehamis is softer, less resistant. They are working together more cooperatively, on the same team, than before. Tefilla changes us.
- 1בראשית, כח:יב
- 2היום יום ה’ כסלו
- 3היום יום ה’ כסלו
- 4After all, Malachim are also called animals, since they are instinctive beings that do not progress or change in their Avodas Hashem. (See full article on Chabad.org.)
- 5Why do we spend this holiest of Tefillos largely on bakashos, requests to Hashem? For the answer, see the Rebbe’s famous sicha about Tefillas Chana and the Tefillos of Rosh Hashana (ליקוטי שיחות חלק י”ט).
- 6פרק י”ב