Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg

Tefillah - An Essential Ingredient for Success

In Parshas Mikeitz, Yosef accuses his brothers of trying to spy on Mitzrayim. He puts Shimon in jail and demands that the brothers bring Binyamin to Mitzrayim to prove that they are not lying. At first, Yaakov refuses to send Binyamin. So the brothers wait because they cannot return to Mitzrayim without Binyamin.

Finally, after some time, Yaakov relents and he allows them to take Binyamin to Mitzrayim. But he tells them that they have to prepare for their encounter with Yosef. "If it must be so, then do this: Take of the land's glory in your baggage and bring it down to the man as a present - some spices, some honey, wax, pistachios and almonds. And take with you double the money (maybe food is now more expensive). And the money that was returned to your sacks bring back with you, maybe it was a mistake. And take your brother, and arise, return to the man. And may Hashem grant you mercy before the man that he may release your other brother as well as Binyamin. (Mikeitz, 43:11-13)" Rashi comments that Yaakov, in his last statement, was saying, "If you have prepared properly, then you are ready to go. You are missing nothing except tefillah. I daven that Hashem should grant you success in your mission."

Yaakov Avinu was teaching the shevatim an important lesson. Sometimes people think that tefillah is necessary only when a situation is beyond our control. If someone we know gets sick, G-d forbid, and the doctors are not so hopeful, we daven because we know that only Hashem's mercy can help. If a friend loses his job and his prospects of finding another one are not good, we daven because we feel desperate for him. If our security is threatened and we feel like there is no safe place in the world, we say Tehillim with greater kavanah because we know that only Hakadosh Boruch Hu can protect us.

But when we take all of the necessary steps to prepare for a situation - we study hard for a test, we spend time and effort putting together a presentation - we tend to feel that tefillah is not as necessary. After all, we prepared. We feel cautiously confident. We almost expect success because we did the necessary hishtadlus to succeed. Of course, we feel thankful for the G-d given talent that enabled us to prepare properly for the task at hand. But we don't always feel the need for tefillah because we feel ready to go.

That is the sentiment that Yaakov Avinu was trying to counter with his last statement. What Yaakov was telling the shevatim is that of course the first step to achieve success is to prepare properly. That is why he instructs the shevatim to take a present, to bring back the money, and to take Binyamin with them because the first thing one must do is position himself for success. But just because one has all of the ingredients for success does not mean he will be successful. He still needs siyata dishmaya to put all of his talents together - to say the right words, to act in the proper way - so that all of his preparation will lead to success.

Tefillah is so important, not just before and during the period of preparation, but especially when a person steps up to the plate feeling ready for the challenge ahead. At that time, it is so critical to take a step back and daven, to express how much he realizes that without Hakadosh Boruch Hu he would not be able to achieve anything.

What's more, expressing thanks after a successful endeavor is even more important. Once a challenge has passed, a person is more likely to attribute his success to his own abilities and talents. Giving thanks demonstrates that a person recognizes the divine assistance which enabled his accomplishments. The Sefer HaChinuch (#606) explains that this is the purpose of the mitzvah of bikkurim. Once a farmer sees the fruits of his labor, he tends to forget the divine intervention that helped bring him success. The Torah obligates the farmer to offer his first fruits to Hashem and to express his thanks by reading the parsha of bikkurim to help him internalize the important message that Hashem is the source of his bounty.

Similarly, the Torah obligates a person to recite Birchas Hamazon after eating, but it does not require of a person to recite a bracha before eating. That obligation was added later by Chazal. The Gemara (Brachos 35a) initially suggests that there is no need for a Bibilical source to recite a bracha rishona because it is a matter of simple logic. If one is obligated to thank Hashem after eating when he is satisfied, then certainly he should be obligated to recite a bracha when he is hungry. But this reasoning is rejected by the Gemara (see Tosafos there, s.v. L'fanav). The conclusion of the Gemara is that it is more incumbent on a person to say a bracha after eating because once he is satisfied he is less likely to recognize Hashem's hand in the creation of the food that he ate. That is why the Torah obligates a person to recite Birchas Hamazon only after eating.

On Chanuka, we celebrate two miracles - the military victory of the Jewish people over the Greeks, and the fact that the lights of the menorah burned for eight days with only one jug of oil. Yet, the text of Al Hanisim, our expression of hallel v'hoda'ah, focuses exclusively on the military victory. Why not mention the miracle of the jug of oil as well? Perhaps the answer is that Chazal understood that people often fail to recognize the hand of G-d in any historical event which appears to be natural. They do not readily appreciate the divine intervention which made it possible. And even if initially they view the event in the proper perspective, nevertheless with the passage of time, things tend to become less clear. That is why Chazal highlighted the military victory in Al Hanisim to emphasize that we have to express our thanks for the natural miracles of life and of history no less than for the supernatural miracle of the jug of oil.

In the merit of our heartfelt tefillah and profound hoda'ah, may we see the miracles of the final ge'ulah.

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