On Wings of Prayer

Rabbi Wagensberg
Elul
On Wings of Prayer

We are well into the month of Elul which is a very propitious time for repenting. Historically speaking, Moshe Rabbenu ascended Mount Sinai for a third set of forty in order to beg God for forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish People who had sinned with the Golden Calf. Moshe climbed to the top of the mountain on Rosh Chodesh Elul and descended on Yom Kippur when God said, "I have forgiven because of your word" (Nu. 14:20; see Rashi Dt. 9:18).

Since God forgave the Jewish People for the sin of the Golden Calf specifically during this period of time, these forty days have become synonymous with Teshuvah (repentance). This chunk of time is exceptionally favorable within which we can all return to God. Moreover, if God forgave the Jewish People for the colossal sin of the Golden Calf, then He will most certainly forgive us for our mistakes which are by far much less severe.

Let us focus on one area of improvement that we should concentrate on during this powerful time of year. To do so, we are going to share a coded message contained in the name of this month.

The name of this month, "Elul", is spelled aleph, lamed, vov, lamed. The Toldos Aharon (Yamim Noraim) says that the Avodah (work) of this month is to connect the aleph of "Elul" with the lamed, vov, lamed of "Elul". This cryptic statement requires an explanation. The Toldos Aharon provides that clarification.

In order to appreciate this mystery, we must first become privy of a Talmudic passage. Rebbi Yishmael, the son of Rebbi Yochanan ben Broka, said that there was a "Lul Katan" (a small cavity built into the Temple floor) between the ramp and the outside Altar on the western side, into which semi-invalidated sin offering birds were thrown into. (Note: If a bird was set aside as a sin offering and nothing damaging happened to it, it was brought as an offering. But if the bird became completely invalid, it was disposed of by being burned. If, however, the bird was only semi-invalid, it would be considered sacrilegious to burn it because of its partial holiness. Therefore, they would throw such birds into this "Lul" (cavity) and let them stay there through the night. At that time, the full invalidation of "Lina" (waiting over-night, and not offering the bird in its proper time) would apply, at which point it could be disposed of by burning it. See Pesachim, chap. 2, "Kol Sha'a", pg. 34a).

The Toldos Aharon continues to say that not only was there a "Lul Katan" in the Temple below, but there is also a "Lul Katan" in the Temple above. The concept of a Temple in the sky is based on a teaching from Reish Lakish who says that there are seven firmaments. In the fourth one up from Earth, called "Zevul" (residence), the Angel Michael brings offerings to Hashem (Chagigah, chap. 2, "Ein Dorshin", pg. 12b, 1 Kin. 8:13).

If offerings are brought in "Zevul", it must mean that there is a Temple there to facilitate the bringing of those offerings. The Temple above mirrors the Temple below. Therefore, in the upper Temple there is also a "Lul Katan". What is thrown into the "Lul Katan" above? The Toldos Aharon says that semi-invalidated Tefillos (prayers) are deposited there. You may ask, "What is a semi-invalidated prayer"? The answer is, any prayer offered without Yiras Hashem (reverence of God) and without Ahavas Hashem (love of God) is semi-invalidated. We cannot say that such a prayer is completely invalid. After all, he did pray. However, since it was missing Yiras Hashem and Ahavas Hashem, it is semi-invalid. Those prayers are thrown into the Lul Katan above. There they wait for their Tikkun (fixing).

This means that Yiras Hashem and Ahavas Hashem are like wings to our prayers, Mitzvos, and Torah learning, for that matter. One source to this idea is found in the Zohar, (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 10, pg.25b), that says that Torah study and Mitzvah performance, without Yirah and Ahavah, cannot fly upward and stand before Hashem. Since the Zohar uses the terminology of "flying upward", we can deduce, that Torah, Mitzvos, and Tefillah need wings to fly. Those wings are Yirah and Ahavah.

But, even if we have prayed without Yirah and Ahavah, we can still correct the situation retroactively through Teshuvah. If we try to improve our reverence and love for God, we can give wings to those Tefillos waiting in the Lul and then, they can fly up to Hashem and have the desired effect.

Perhaps we could suggest that the letter aleph represents the idea of attaching wings to prayers that were offered without Yirah and Ahavah. This can be seen by the shape of the letter aleph. The letter aleph consists of three letters. They are a letter vov on a diagonal, with two yuds on either side. The vov, which is the body of the letter, represents the actual prayer. Tefillah is supposed to connect us to God. This is hinted to in the letter vov, because a letter vov is often used as a connecting letter. The two yuds on either side represent the Yirah and Ahavah that are put into the prayer. This is why the two yuds look like two wings. It is they who carry the prayer to Hashem.

This could be what the Toldos Aharon meant when he said that our Avodah during this month is to connect the aleph (of Elul) to the lamed, vov, lamed (of Elul). The two yuds of the aleph represent the wings of Yirah and Ahavah. We must "connect", (represented by the vov), the Yirah and Ahavah to the lamed, vov, lamed, which spells "Lul". In other words, we are supposed to attach the wings of Ahavas Hashem and Yiras Hashem to the semi-invalidated prayers that are waiting in the "Lul" for fixing. This is the Avodah of E-LUL!

Perhaps we could add that this idea is found in our Parsha as well. One Mitzvah in this portion is Shiluach Hakan (sending the mother bird away before taking the eggs or the chicks; Dt. 22:7). The actual Mitzvah is to send the mother bird away. There is no Mitzvah of taking eggs or chicks. It's just that if you want the eggs or chicks, you must first send the mother bird away. When you look at the form of this Mitzvah, it is a bird flying away with its wings. This Mitzvah is not read during Elul every single year arbitrarily. Rather, it comes to teach us that this is how Mitzvos must be done; with wings of Yirah and Ahavah. It could be that the Mitzvah of Shiluach Hakan was chosen to teach this to us because the "mother" bird represents the "Mother", or "example", of all the Mitzvos. They must all be done in this way.

Maybe we could continue to propose that this idea is found in yet another Mitzvah in this week's portion. The verse says, "You must make for yourselves twisted threads on the four 'Kanfos' (corners) of your garment" (Dt. 22:12). The root of the word "Kanfos" is "K'naf" (corner). It is spelled kaf, nun, phey. Those three letters can also spell the word "Kanaf" (wing!). The Torah is teaching us to make sure that the Mitzvah of Tzitzis has wings. Do it with Yirah and Ahavah.

Possibly, the reason why Tzitzis was chosen to teach this to us is because Tzitzis is often equated to all six hundred and thirteen Mitzvos. The word Tzitzis (spelled tzadi, yud, tzadi, yud, saf) is numerically six hundred. When you add the five knots and eight strings to that number, you get six hundred and thirteen. Therefore, not only does Tzitzis need K'nafos (wings), but all the Mitzvos require K'nafos.

So how can we plug in to the Avodah of Elul and connect the wings of Yirah and Ahavah to any past Mitzvos which were done without them? Perhaps we could recommend two exercises for the remainder of this month.

Pick one Mitzvah that we do anyway. Right before doing the Mitzvah, let us say those famous words that are found in some Siddurim (prayer books) prior to certain Mitzvos. Those words are, "L'Shem Yichud Kudsha Brich Hu Ushechintei, B'dechilu Urechimu L'yached Shem Yud-Kei BVov-Kei, B'yichuda Shlim, B'shem Kol Yisrael" (For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and His Presence, in reverence and love to unify the Name Yud-Kei with Vov-Kei in perfect unity, in the name of all Israel).

This will remind us to go about the Mitzvah with Yirah and Ahavah. Still, one may ask, how can I stimulate the feelings of reverence and love? One answer is to think about God. Think about how powerful and vast God is. When a person truly ponders this thought, he automatically starts to feel a little bit of respect, reverence, and awe of Hashem.

The same holds true with feeling love for Hashem. Think for a moment how much God loves you. Meditate on how much God has done for you in the past, and be aware of all that God is doing for you right now. When we begin to realize just how much God is loving us, we will automatically experience feelings of love for Him, too. Success in obtaining Yirah and Ahavah are just a few thoughts away!

The recitation of the aforementioned preparatory prayer is meant to be used as a tool to conjure up those thoughts and emotions. As we increase our Yirah and Ahavah during Elul, we are actively involved in the process of Teshuvah, atoning for the absence of Yirah and Ahavah in the past. We thus earn our wings and attach them to the prayers waiting in "Lul", allowing them to fly high and achieve the necessary results.

May we all be blessed to properly immerse ourselves in the Avodah of Elul, infusing our Torah, Mitzvos, and Tefillos with Yiras Hashem and Ahavas Hashem, and thereby uplift any Tefillos that have fallen into the "Lul" over the past twelve months and give them wings, and thereby benefit greatly from them.