Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber was once sitting together with his followers when one of them decided to make a toast. “May the merit of the holy Rabbi Shneur Zalman protect us.”
The Rebbe retorted, “Why?” The student was dumbfounded.
The Rebbe explained, “When someone asks you for money, do you dig into your pocket and give the person what he is asking for, or do you ask, “why”? You just requested and asked that all the good this great Rabbi stands for, and he accomplished in his lifetime should bless and protect us. As you are requesting something, shouldn’t you be asking yourself, why?”
The Rebbe continued, “When the good angel created from your toast goes up to heaven to request from the soul of this Holy man a favor for someone, the angel himself needs to come prepared with an answer when he is asked, why? A person, must always make himself worthy of a blessing.”
Prayer is often compared to a ladder whose bottom is on the ground and whose head is in the heavens.
The power of prayer instituted by the men of the great assembly is such that it can elevate a person from the abyss of his soul experience to the highest of the high. The ladder of prayer has this connection built into it. It is up to the one who prays to elevate himself through proper meditation and dedication of his deeds and actions to what is higher and nobler than the coarse world we live in, towards heaven — and then, a connection is formed.
This connection with the spiritual, when it is real and tangible, transforms and refines a person. The person himself feels and knows he is not the same as he was before this spiritual experience.
Prayer is not just a time to ask for things from the Almighty. Prayer is an opportunity to become more, by dedicating ourselves to — and connecting more of who we are — with Godliness. “The more one has connected to the Above, the less the chances are the person will slip and fall below.”
That Talmud tells us that the most powerful prayer of the day comes in the afternoon. Elijah the prophet, when he had his great face-off against all the false prophets, was answered spectacularly in the afternoon, not only because he was Elijah, but because the afternoon has this very special quality.
In the morning, a person is fresh and in the mood. At the end of the day, everything is already behind him. It is smack in the middle of a person’s busy day, at the very crescendo of worry and stress, that the time is right for one to connect his world with the highest of the high.
The further back an elastic band is pulled in anxiety and stress, the greater the momentum and force when let go. It is smack in the middle of the day when prayer may be the most difficult that we connect with the deepest of the deep.
Prayer is not just for those who “get it” and are already “up there.” Talking to God in prayer has the opportunity to connect one and all with the power above. Then, the above can and will, influence and permeate our lives with blessings down below.