• Rabbi Shmuel Brazil

The Three Step Program for a Great Shemoneh Esrai | Parshas Vayigash

At the end of Parshas Mikaitz, we find Yehudah telling Yosef that all the brothers present will remain in Mitzrayim as slaves because of the accusation that Binyamin stole the goblet. However, when Yosef eases the punishment by saying that only Binyamin will remain and the rest of the brothers are free to return to their father, it was then that Yehudah protested and said that he will take the place of Binyamin for the sake of his father. What caused the sudden change of mind and heart of Yehudah?

Chazal in the Medrash say that the word ויגש means תפלה. There are three instances in Tanach where we find tefillah expressed with the word ויגש. One instance was Avraham davening for the annulment of Hashem's decree to destroy Sodom (Bereishis 18,23) ויגש אברהם ויאמר האף תספה צדיק עם רשע. The second one we find here by Yehudah, and the third expression where the term of ויגש was used to portray tefillah was by Eliyahu Hanavi. It was on Har Karmel that Eliyahu confronted all the false prophets and he davened that Hashem should send from the heavens a fire that will consume his sacrifice (Melachim 1,18,37).

These three expressions of ויגש which literally means to approach in preparation, became a halacha in Shulchan Aruch in relationship to Shemoneh Esrai. As the Ramah writes Orach Chaim 95 that one should take three steps forwards before he begins the Shemoneh Esrai. The source of this minhag is in the Rokeach (Siman 322) based on the three pessukim above that have the word ויגש denoting tefillah and particularly to the preparation to daven. What then are exactly the thoughts and intentions that one should have as he approaches to daven the Shemoneh Esrai while taking these three steps that will make his davening more successful?

The ויגש of Avraham on behalf of Sodom, was an expression of his dedication to his middah of chesed and עולם חסד יבנה. As the preface to his commentary of Chumash, the Netziv writes that although Avraham detested the dwellers of Sodom and their wickedness towards anyone who acted with chesed, he nevertheless davened for their behalf that they should not perish due to their evil ways. Even the structure of tefillah instituted by the Anshei Keneses Hagdolah points to the aspect of chesed in tefillah and that is to daven on behalf of others. The text of tefillah is in the plural form. This is to teach us that davening is not only a private and selfish experience but rather an expression of a collective concern for the benefit and enrichment of every Yid whether his lacking may be of a spiritual or material nature. The Ari Hakadosh enforces this concept when he writes that prior to davening one should accept upon himself the mitzvah of ואהבת לרעך כמוך that one must love his fellow man as himself for only then he can be assured that this tefillos will come to fruition.

This particular ויגש of Avraham for the protection of the Sodom sinners was chosen above all the other tefillos of Avraham's to be revealed to us in the Torah. If Avraham can daven for the survival of such sinners, surely we can and should daven for our brethren that their needs be filled. Preparation for tefillah is therefore to daven for everyone's needs not just your own.

A second requirement that serves as a preparation for davening needed to make it a proper tefillah is found in Eliyahu's ויגש . His preparation expressed the sanctification of Hashem's name by eradicating avoda zarah from the world. When the heavenly fire descended upon Eliyahu's korban, all who were assembled proclaimed ה' הוא האלקים. The name of Hashem which represents nature is אלהים which is gematriah הטבע. All of nature is created and sustained by יהו'. The worship of avodah zarah is against this belief. Our fervent prayer is להעביר גילולים מן הארץ והאלילים כרות יכרתון לתקן עולם במלכות שדי וכל בני בשר יקראו בשמך (Aleinu Leshabeich). A deeper meaning is that the term of avoda zarah also reflects a worship of anything that is זרה strange and alienated from Hashem's desire and will, whether it be money, power, fame, one's body, addiction, selfishness, hedonism etc.

The ויגש of Eliyahu is the component of בין אדם למקום to daven for Hashem's revelation, His redemption from Galus שכינתא בגלותא, the recognition of והיה ה' למלך על כל הארץ ביום ההוא יהיה ה' אחד ושמו אחד. When we recite in Shemoneh Esrai כי לישועתך קוינו כל היום our intentions should be for Your redemption we hope the entire day and not for my own personal redemption.

The above two characteristics of ויגש tefillos, the chesed בין אדם לחבירו and the בין אדם למקום davening for the complete revelation of Hashem's Shechinah, are present and overt in their texts. Avraham's ויגש portrays that he prepared to daven for the salvation of Sodom and he did daven thus. Eliyahu's ויגש is that he prepared to daven for the sanctification of Hashem's name and he did davenwith this plea. The ויגש of Yehudah is not as evident as the former two tefillos. Yehudah's ויגש expresses the preparation to daven for Binyamin's release but we don't see an act of tefillah from Yehudah to Hashem at all. What we do see is only his plea to Yosef for the release of Binyamin.

Let us explain. Before one davens one has to contact his true identity and know who he really is. Chazal say (Berachos 28b) that before one davens דע לפני מי אתה עומד. This can also be interpreted to mean דע , one must know this as a prerequisite for tefillah. " לפני "מי אתה before one really knows and recognizes מי אתה who he is and in which part of him, his soul or his body lies his true identity, he will not be inspired to grow and become a הולך. Instead he will remain frozen in time and space as an עומד. A malach is called a עומד because he is forever fixed at one station in his existence since he is without free choice and bechirah. Man in contrast is called a הולך one who moves from one station to a more elevated place which provides and fosters a closer intimacy with Hashem. The transformation from a עומד to a הולך is ignited when a Yid realizes the unique spiritual potential of his neshama and how it craves to reconnect to its source which is Hashem.

The sefarim write that a Yid must also remember that his neshama in its source is bound as one with all the neshamos of Yisrael. This source is called כנסת ישראל the place where all the neshamos of Yisrael are gathered and are identified as one spiritual body. It is only when the neshama descends into this world and resides in a body which has physical dimensions there then exists a separation between one another. Since all the neshamos are one in its source and they are חלק אלוק ממעל a part of Hashem, there in the source lies an incredible oneness and unity between עם ישראל וה'.

Tefillah is the act of deeply connecting to Hashem. The prerequisite for this is to connect to the source where Am Yisrael are one and therefore Hashem is one with them. As we say in ShemonehEsrai ברכנו אבינו כולנו כאחד Hashem only dwells in a place of achdus. Only when one connects to this achdus of כנסת ישראל , only then can one maximize his connection with ה' אחד.

The tefilla of Keneses Yisrael is the tefilla of the neshama. The neshama of Yisrael on earth is connected to the source neshama high in the upper worlds. To this the passuk testifies (Devarim 32,9) כי חלק ה' עמו יעקב חבל נחלתו the neshama in our bodies is part and parcel of Hashem and it is חבל נחלתו likened to a long rope that is tied high above rooted in Keneses Yisrael. Therefore, one must daven with his neshama alone without the vibes or interests being emitted from his body and animal soul which only cause friction, jealousy, and separation between each Yid. Contacting only the soul for tefillah connects him to the achdus portrayed by the tefillah of Keneses Yisrael and Hashem.

How does one connect to his neshama when he still has his body tugging him in the earthly direction? Up until now ויגש of Avraham and Eliyahu only described the contents of the tefilla not the preparation itself. Yehuda's ויגש is just the opposite for it describes the preparation but not the tefillah. It is in Yehdah that we have the detailed procedure of preparing how to daven for another Yid and for Hashem's kovid by reaching Keneses Yisrael.

Rabbeinu Yona Berachos 30b writes

שיהיה לבם שלם בעבודת המקום ויבטלו מלבם תענוגי העולם הזה והנאותיהם כי כשיטהרו לבם מהבלי העולם הזה ויהיה כוונתם ברוממות השם תהיה תפלתם רצויה ומקובלת לפני המקום ועל כוונה זו נאמר תכין לבם תקשיב אזנך. כענין שאמרו הקדמונים כשתרצה לכוין פשוטגופך מעל נשמתך

Their hearts should be complete in the service of Hashem and they should eradicate from their hearts the pleasures of this world and its enjoyments for when their hearts are cleansed from the vanity of this world and their thoughts will with the loftiness of Hashem, their tefillos will be desirable and accepted by Hashem. This is what the passuk means "prepare their hearts and Your ears will listen". Like the early Sages said, if one wants to have kavannah in davening he must skin his body off from his neshama.

Rav Yaakov Emden in his preface to his siddur writes that the essence of tefilla is a state of טוהר וזוך הלב ונקיות המחשבה purity and refinedness of the heart and cleansed thoughts.

The sefarim write that the words עבודה שבלב means the tanning of the heart as we find the word עיבוד in reference to the tanning process of animal skins to transform them into leather. Tanning hide into leather involves a process which permanently alters the protein structure of skin, making it more durable and less susceptible to decomposition, and also possibly coloring it. Avodah of the heart is likewise to process it by altering its structure from impurities and undesirable middos and allows the neshamah to be completely in charge and dominant over your body during this time of davening to Hashem. When one's body has become so nullified that you are not aware of its existence, then the neshama high in the upper worlds can descend into you and it becomes as if Hashem is the one who is davening and speaking since even down on earth they have become one with the lower neshama.

This is the purpose of the halacha סמיכות גאולה לתפלה that one must connect the geulah of Kerias Yam Suf גאל ישראל to the Shemoneh Esrai without any interruption. At Kerias Yam Suf every Yid connected to Hashem in an intimate way זה אלי ואנוהו and Chazal say (Shabbos 133b) that the word ואנוהו consists of two words אני והוא. They were united with Hashem without the mechitza of body interference. The Sfas Emes enlightens us by saying that at Kerias Yam Suf their neshamos above were fully connected to their neshamos inside their bodies which was a mini experience of תחיית המתים.

שפת אמת (פסח תרמ"ב ד"ה אז ישיר) שאיתא בחז"ל הובא ברש"י עה"כ אז ישיר משה מכאן לתחיית המתים מן התורה. והפירוש כי שורש תחיית המתים הוא מישועה זו. רק שלפי שעה בא ביורדי הים נשמות שלמעלה כעין תחיית המתים ממש כידוע שיש לכל צדיק חלק למעלה כמ"ש משה משה והוא הנשמה יתירה. לכן חכמים הגידו כי בפסח יהיה תחיית המתים כי הוא הזמן המיוחד לכך. ויתכן לפרש משה ובני ישראל בני ישראל הם השבטים ממש שהחיה אותם לראות בהצלת תולדותם עכ"ל.

This understanding of our geulah at Kerias Yam Suf is part of the ויגש of preparing for tefillah by letting us know that in order to daven properly one must prepare himself and ensure that his heart must be free from any other interest other than Hashem. Furthermore he must be consumed with neshama throughout his tefillah.

Before Yehudah spoke to Yosef, he engaged himself heavily in the process of ויגש preparing to daven by subjugating his heart mind and his total body before Hashem. By doing so he attained such a high level of negation that he connected only to his neshama and not to his body,פשט גופו מעל נשמתו . If he was to actually daven at this point it would be Hashem and his upper and lower neshamah together, who would be davening not his body. The Zera Kodesh from Ropshitz writes at the beginning of the parsha the Chazal (Berachos 7) that Hashem also davens. He interprets this to mean sometimes Hashem clothes Himself in the mouth of the davener to help say the words.

With this state of preparation for tefillah, Yehudah's neshama spoke to Yosef to release Binyamin. He told Yosef in his present state following thisויגש preparation, בי אדוני inside me is my master, Hashem clothed in my lower and upper neshamos who is speaking to you right now. I have reached a place in heaven which is the source of absolute achdus of Keneses Yisrael and Hashem who is bound with them. If this tzarah from Hashem is a test to whether I still possess jealousy, animosity, and separation towards Rachel's children (Bereishis 44,16), I testify that am holding strong by Keneses Yisrael and I am devoid of any self interests other than kovid shamayim.

This is why we do not find the actual tefillah of Yehudah after his ויגש which is unlike Avraham and Eliyahu. The reason being that Yehudah took that preparation of being in the state of בי אדוני and with it he began his request to Yosef for the freedom of Binyamin. Yosef was able to feel his level of achdus alluded to in the words ויתן את קולו בבכי He wept so loudly. It could also be translated as "with כי" the acronym of כנסת ישראל. He wept with tears of joy when he realized that Yehuda who sold him down to Mitzrayim was holding with such a lofty achdus concerning him and the other brothers (Rashi 37,2)

Now we can understand why Yehudah suddenly changed his previous judgment from "we all will be slaves" to "I will take the place of Binyamin". Before he was talking and reacting with his body, not just his neshama. Using the influence of the body as a partner in any way to make important decisions, will not guarantee the outcome that it will fulfill the desire of his creator. Hashem had different plans. When Yehudah underwent the process of ויגש and reached the level of בי אדוני it was Hashem who speaking with His plan and that plan was it is now time for the revelation of Yosef to his brothers.

What we can learn from this mamar is that one must prepare himself for tefillah which is the process of ויגש in three ways. He must cleanse his heart and mind from physical desires of this world to the point where he contacts his neshamah which connects to his upper neshamah like a rope. He must include in his davening tefillos for all Yisrael not just his personal pleas to Hashem. For only when he attains the source of כנסת ישראל he can truly bond with Hashem who is part of this achdus. He must also daven for the return of Hashem's kovod by ridding the world of all types of avodah zarah and pray for His geulah and redemption for it is at this place of כנסת ישראל that Hashem is also perceived as echad and אין עוד מלבדו.

Let us now take this concept to an even deeper level. The three physical steps that one takes before Shemoneh Esrai symbolize the תכין לבם the preparation for tefillah, the three ויגש's. The gematriah of ויגש with the word is 320. Times three is 960. This is the same amount of lugin necessary to make a mikveh kosher to remove tumah. (40 seah, and each seah is 24 lugin, which equals 960 lugin). תפילה is like טבילה. (in the letter פ there is always a white letter ב). Just as in the act of tevillah the entire body must be submerged under the water which is a place where it has no existence, so too in תפילה one must tear the body away from the neshama and daven from his neshama. Only then he can connect to his neshamos and the acdus of Hashem ברכנו אבינו כולנו כאחד.

This entire mamar is alluded to in the passuk ולא יזח החשן מן האפד. The breastplate should not move from the apron (Shmos 28,28). The apron אפד is gematriah פה mouth which symbolizes tefillah for this was the purpose of the mouth being created. Torah and Tefillah. The Torah is instructing on a deeper level that one's tefillah must now move from the חשן the breastplate, upon which was set jewels with the names of the carved on them Shevatim. The חשן represented the achdus of Keneses Yisrael where every Yid is a precious jewel in the eyes of Hashem and Yisrael. The Urim and Tumim which lay inside the Choshen testify that all of Yisrael possess the light (אור) of the אין סוף and they are (תומים) complete and wholesome. When davening the Shemoneh Esrai one must daven with his neshama not his body for only then can he reach the level of Keneses Yisrael. The three preparations to attain this goal lie in the three steps and ויגש's which are all hinted in the word חשן. One must plan to connect to חבירו Kenesses Yisrael represented by Avraham's ויגש, plan the connection to the שכינה to daven for its revelation and geulah represented by Eliyahu's ויגש, and finally plan to fulfill Yehuda's ויגש whereupon one must strive to connect himself to the נשמה the real you. Every individual must toil as much as he can to pull himself away from the strong gravitational force towards earthly pleasures, indulgences and self – interests which cause his divine mission to fail.

ברכנו אבינו כולנו כאחד באור עה"כ בגמטריא שבת on the holy day of Shabbos it is much easier with the neshama yesairah to attain the light that flows from כנסת ישראל into one's body.



- Rabbi Shmuel Brazil

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