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Shabbat Parashat Toldot | 5769

Prayer With the Community and The Purpose of Prayer

Ein Ayah

Gemara: Whoever prays behind a beit k’nesset is called a rasha (wicked person). Abayei said: This is said only if he did not turn his face toward the beit k’nesset.


Ein Ayah: A beit k’nesset is a gathering place for the tzibbur (community) in the service of Hashem. The rule is that a person, even if he is very noteworthy for his level, must include himself with the community. Then he can benefit from the tzibbur, and the tzibbur can benefit from him. However, if he will choose a path, even concerning his service of Hashem, of separating himself from the path of the tzibbur, this will not find favor in Hashem’s eyes and he will continuously deteriorate. This idea is hinted in the idea of praying behind a beit k’nesset, which implies that he considers himself worthy to “build his own altar” for the use of his unique service of Hashem.

Abayei’s distinction of the direction in which he prays outside the beit k’nesset also contains a hint. The above criticism of one who separates himself applies only if he separates himself totally, in order to chart a course of service of Hashem according to the viewpoint of his heart. If so, even if he is otherwise a giant among giants, he is considered an evil person. However, if his goal is to be included in and to participate with the community, just that occasionally he needs to follow an approach to service according to his status and situation, this is not a problem.

In another place, we hinted about the imagery of the back of a beit k’nesset in the following regard. There are two purposes of a beit k’nesset [or, actually, of prayer in general, for which purpose a beit k’nesset is used]. One is to glorify and exalt the Name of Hashem. In truth, the main purpose of the creation of prayer is for that goal, so that people can recognize Hashem’s impact on the world, fear Him, and follow His path for their own good.

The second purpose is an offshoot of the first. Prayer enables one to obtain that which he asks for. If the ethical element [the first mentioned above] was missed and only receiving that which one asked for was achieved, there would be a theological difficulty. What is the purpose and logic of prayer? After all, it is impossible for Hashem to experience a change of heart, so why does He need our prayer? [In other words, if that which we desire is something that Hashem would like us to have, He would provide it without our request, and if He does not want us to have it, our prayer will not change His mind.] Rather, there is an ethical element to prayer. Specifically, by realizing that everything comes from Hashem, man’s ethical status will improve, and righteousness and straightness will increase. This by itself makes it very worthwhile for prayer to exist.

The main, inner goal of prayer, which is its ethical side, is hinted at by the inside of the beit k’nesset, representing the main reason for its existence. The secondary element of fulfillment of requests is metaphorically referred to as behind the beit k’nesset. That’s why the gemara says that one who prays only behind the beit k’nesset and does not relate to its ethical side is considered a rasha whose prayer is despised. This is along the lines of the pasuk: “Someone who removes his ear from hearing Torah” and thereby does not look to improve himself, “his prayer is an abomination” (Mishlei 28:9). This is because prayer from which no improvement in one’s actions will grow is like blasphemy to Hashem because it implies that, Heaven forbid, Hashem changes His mind. Therefore, Hashem desires only the prayers of those who are straight, for in all of their prayers they draw the internal characteristic of elevating the soul, which is the purpose of prayer.

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George Weinstein
Jack Levin –

Chaim Yaakov ben Shlomo Yitzchak HaLevi – by his family.

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R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga      Brachfeld


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