י״ז באלול ה׳תשע״ב (September 4, 2012)

Berakhot 34a-b: The Power of Fluent Prayer

The Mishna on today’s daf describes how errors in prayer are indicative that the prayer is not accepted. In particular it relates the story of Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa who told that he knew whether his prayer was accepted based on the fluency with which he was able to recite it. The Gemara tells the following story about Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa:

And there was another incident involving Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa, who went to study Torah before Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, and Rabbi Yoḥanan’s son fell ill. He said to him: Ḥanina, my son, pray for mercy on behalf of my son so that he will live. Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa placed his head between his knees in order to meditate and prayed for mercy upon his behalf, and Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai’s son lived. Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai said about himself: “Had ben Zakkai stuck his head between his knees throughout the entire day, they would have paid him no attention.” His wife said to him: And is Ḥanina greater than you? He replied to her: No, but his prayer is better received than my own because he is like a servant before the King, and as such he is able to enter before the King and make various requests at all times. I, on the other hand, am like a minister before the King, and I can enter only when invited and can make requests only with regard to especially significant matters.

According to Rabbi Ḥisdai Crescas in his Or Hashem, Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai sought to express that the acceptance of Rabbi Ḥanina’s prayer was because his devotion to God was greater, although his Torah knowledge was not. According to the parable, the minister, specifically because he is engaged in more significant undertakings, cannot raise his own personal problems or the problems of others before the king. At the same time, the servant, whose devotion is solely to the king, has ready access to him.

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