The Power of a Jew’s Tefillos
The commentaries offer a variety of explanations of the pasuk (Shmos 25:2), “And they shall take a gift for Me…” Why does Hashem command the Jewish people to “take” a gift for Hashem, rather than “give” Him a gift? The Sefer Habahir, one of the earliest Kabbalah seforim by the Tanna, Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakaneh, offers an amazing explanation. He writes, “What does the pasuk ‘And they shall take a gift, terumah, for Me’ mean? This is what Hashem told the Jewish people: I shall be lifted [the word terumah also means to lift]. Lift Me up with your davening. And who [shall do this]? ‘From every person whose heart inspires him to generosity’; the tzaddikim and the pious of the Jewish people who lift Me up over the world with their merits.”
The Levels of Faith
I once saw a parable which describes the evolution of man’s understanding of the nature of his place in the world. At first, before Avraham Avinu, when our ancestors were idol-worshipers, they believed the world was like a puppet theater. Each person is like a puppet on the stage and one or more gods was pulling the strings, controlling every action. They believed that while it appears to the audience each puppet is acting of its own volition, this outward appearance is illusory. In reality, each person is like a puppet in the hands of the gods. The best each person can hope for is to bring offerings to appease the gods and hope they do not move him into the grave at a young age.
But then Avraham Avinu, the Avos, and the Sinai experience enlightened creation with a new understanding of man’s place in the world. The Torah revealed that there are no strings attached. People are not puppets, mere subjects of the whims of the gods. Rather, the Creator gives each person free will. We are free agents, not puppets. We can choose whether to do good and receive reward or do evil and be punished.
But the evolution of our understanding of the nature of man’s place in the world does not end there. The Sefer Habahir and other Kabbalah seforim reveal even more. It turns out that there are strings connecting Heaven and Earth, but not strings used to control people like puppets. Rather, Hashem places the strings in our hands. He gives us the ability to affect the higher worlds through our actions and bring the Divine Presence into the world or push it away from the world according to our deeds.
It goes without saying that this does not mean that any human being can affect G-d’s Essence. That is completely beyond this world. But there are many levels above this world which Hashem places in man’s hands like the Sefiros, the upper worlds, and an aspect of revelation called the “Divine Presence.” While we cannot literally affect Hashem Himself, He gives every Jew, through his thoughts, words, and actions, the power to reveal or conceal the Divine Presence in the world. The pasuk (Tehillim 22:4) therefore says, “And You are holy, who sits on the praises of Yisroel.” Hashem gives our davening the power to determine the extent of the revelation of how Hashem’s dwells in the world.
Rav Chaim Volozhiner, zt”l, explains in his sefer Nefesh Hachaim (1:3) as follows: “Hashem created man and made him ruler over myriads of forces and worlds without number. And He placed them into his [man’s] hands so that he should rule and guide them through the details of his actions, words, thoughts, and all aspects of his conduct whether for the good or, G-d forbid, the opposite.”
As the Sefer Habahir says, “Lift Me up with your davening…with their merits.” It is well-known that people asked Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, as a small child, “Where does G-d live?” he answered, “Wherever you let Him in.” The main distinction between people is not how easy or difficult their lives are. Rather, the main difference between them is how they perceive life. Do they invite Hashem into their lives? Do they hold the strings pulling Heaven down to Earth or do they throw them out?
Inviting Hashem In
Rav Moshe Tzvi Menkin, known as Rav Neriah, recounts that when Rav Kook lived in Yaffo, he was close with the famous writer, Yosef Chaim Brenner. Although Yosef Chaim grew up religious, he had become irreligious and was then vocally anti-religious as well. Nevertheless, he greatly admired Rav Kook. Rav Kook was known for holding a very deep Shalosh Sheudos meal every week in his home, where a wide range of people could always be found.
One week at the Shalosh Sheudos meal, Rav Kook was singing and teaching Torah in the dining room but Yosef Chaim Brenner was pacing back and forth in the kitchen, looking very agitated. Someone asked Yosef Chaim what was bothering him. He answered “I cannot understand Rav Kook. All he speaks about is light, light, light. But I can only see darkness.” Two people can live in the same city, seeing and hearing the same things every day. Rav Kook let Hashem into his life, so he saw light everywhere. Yosef Chaim unfortunately did not invite Hashem in and therefore only saw darkness. Hashem always exists everywhere, but His Presence is only revealed in this world where man chooses to let Him in.
The most opportune time to invite Hashem into our lives, just as Rav Kook did, is when we are davening. “Lift Me up with your davening.” When we daven to Hashem, we open ourselves up to the G-dliness hidden in the world and recognize that Hashem is with us at all times. And even though the Sefer Habahir says that the ability to lift Hashem up as Master of the world is the role of the “tzaddikim and the pious of the Jewish people,” the pasuk (Shmos 25:2) says that “every person” can bring Hashem’s Presence into the world in this way.
There is a story about Chaim Behr, another accomplished writer at the time of Rav Kook. He recalls that he had the opportunity to meet the famous tzaddik, Reb Aryeh Levin, zt”l, when he was nine-years-old. He was not shy and asked Reb Aryeh, “Are you one of the thirty six hidden tzaddikim?” Reb Aryeh, rather than dismissing the suggestion as we may have expected, paused and gave young Chaim’s question serious thought. Finally, Reb Aryeh answered him, “Sometimes, for a minute or two, I think I am one of them. And you can be too.” We see from Reb Aryeh that every Jew holds the strings to Heaven in his hands. Every Jew can draw Hashem down into this world with his davening and by inviting Hashem into his life.
This week was Rosh Chodesh Adar. And we know from the Gemara (Taanis 29a) that when the month of Adar enters, we increase joy. We see from the fact the Gemara says that joy only increases when Adar “enters,” that we must allow Adar to enter into our lives for it to bring us an extra measure of happiness. If we do not allow it to enter into our lives, we will not experience its joy. But unfortunately, many of us will not let Adar into our lives and will live out the next month like any other time of the year.
We Can Only Pull the Strings So Far
We must understand that the strings we hold in our hands can only “affect” Hashem’s Presence within the boundaries of the halachic process. With the recent debates regarding women and tefillin, it seems that there are some precious and sincere Jews now who do not fully understand the halachic process and think they can pull Hashem according to their view of what is right notwithstanding the system of halachic precedent. That does not work. At some point the strings simply snap. G-d does not follow man into a fictitious world created by his own imagination and personal preferences.
May we and all of our brothers and sisters merit to invite Hashem into our lives, may our lives conform to the parameters of halacha, and may we live up to the ideal of “I shall be lifted” through the righteousness of our thoughts, words, and actions.