Praise and Prayer

Rabbi Akiva Fox

For years and years, a homeless peddler sat on a street corner in Manhattan selling pencils for a dime. Every day, a wealthy banker passed by, took out a dime from his pocket and placed it in the man’s bucket without ever taking a pencil. Day in day out, never uttering a word or taking anything in return, the banker would give the man his daily dime, smile, and walk away.
One day, as the banker approached, the homeless man stood up and asked to have a word with him. “I know,” said the banker, “you want to know why, for the past decade, every single day, I have dropped a dime into your lap without ever taking a pencil….am I correct?” “No” replied the peddler, “I just wanted to tell you that I raised the price to a quarter!”
What a fool! Instead of thanking the banker for years of kindness and benevolence, he had the audacity to ask for more! (Presumably, he never got another dime out of the guy, definitely not a quarter!)
The Gemara in Brachot tells us that when we beseech Hashem and beg for our needs, we must first offer thanks and appreciation before making our requests. We do not begin the Amidah prayer by asking and begging. Rather, we praise Hashem and thank Him for His wonders and miracles; only then do we begin our supplications.
The sefarim tell us that this concept is alluded to in the first words of this week’s parsha, “Vayigsah elav Yehudah” Yehudah came close to him. The Rabbi’s tell us that this is a remez, an allusion to the proper way to be “nigash”—to come close to Hashem in prayer. First, we approach Hashem with “Yehudah,” with “hodaah”—thanks— recognizing Hashem’s abundant kindness and grace and seeing his Hand in our daily lives. Only after acknowledging His abundant blessings can we beseech the Melech Malchei Hamlachim. May we truly learn to appreciate His infinite chesed and come closer to Him in our tefillot. Amen!


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