Time for another Tuesday TorahTutors Tidbit! Real Torah, from real TorahTutors sessions.
A young parent who has been making time to learn with TorahTutors for years (we’re so proud of her!) learned a highly relevant passage about prayer that offered much food for thought.
The Mishna in Berachot 4:4 cites Rabbi Eliezer’s statement that “One who makes his prayer fixed, his prayer is not supplication.”
The Gemara (29b), naturally, asks “What is ‘fixed’?” What sort of pitfall is Rabbi Eliezer trying to highlight, that could detract from the supplicatory nature of our prayers?
Three answers are suggested:
- Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi said that Rabbi Oshaya said: anyone whose prayer is like a burden upon him. (Commentators explain that in this approach, “fixed” means “something one must do each day” – and as soon as we think of prayer as something we “must” do, an item to check off the list, it is difficult to experience it as a genuine, heartfelt appeal to God.)
- The Rabbis say: Anyone who doesn’t say it in the language of supplication. (This may seem like almost a circular definition, in the context of the mishna, but it gives rise to important questions about how our established liturgy might both support and interfere with our personal appeals to God – and how we might weave “the language of supplication” into that “fixed” liturgy.)
- Rabbah and Rav Yosef both said: Anyone who is unable to introduce something novel into it. (Could that be our answer to the challenge presented by #2? But see the next line in the Gemara for a further difficulty.)
The student and tutor discussed how they understood Rabbi Eliezer’s statement before reading the Gemara, how the Gemara’s three answers overlap and differ from each other, the experience of trying to fit prayer that is both fixed and supplicatory into a busy day full of distractions, and more
What do you think Rabbi Eliezer meant, according to the Gemara’s suggestions and/or your own impressions and from your own experience? How can we find the right balance between regular prayer, in accordance with halacha, and the personal elements that make our prayer a true appeal to God?
We’d love to hear from you and learn with you!