Part one: Awakening to the importance of prayer
and it’s details.

In the gemarah in Brachot (6b) it says, “One of the Rabbis
said to R’ Bayvo Bar Abaye, and some say that it was R’ Bayvo to
R’ Nachman Bar Yitzchok, ‘What thing is very elevated and yet
degraded by people?’ [Meaning that it says this in Tehillim (12)
and they asked how to understand the verse]. He told them, ‘The
thing which stands at the pinnacle of the world and people
degrade it.” Rashi explains, “Things that stand at the top of the
world mean prayer which rises upwards.” The evaluation that
many give prayer is usually much less than it’s actual worth.
Accordingly, it is fitting that a person to make the effort to
elevate his personal evaluation of prayer, to bring it somewhat
closer to its true worth. One of the ways to achieve this is to
learn about the essence of prayer. We will bring here – please
Hashem – a sampling of what there is to understand on this.

In truth, there is much to say about the commandment of
prayer. Prayer is divided into praises, requests and thanks. As we
see in the gemarah in Brachot 34b about the shemone esreh
prayer, “R’ Chanina said, ‘The first ones [meaning the first
brachot of the shemone esreh] are compared to a servant who
offers praises before his master, the middle ones are compared
to a servant who requests a reward from his master, and the last
ones are compared to a servant who just received a reward from
his master, thanks him and leaves and goes away.”

There is another definition of prayer in the context of it
being a service of the heart. There is the sensation of closeness
to Hashem and there is the begging of one’s Creator to do him a
personal favor and give him the good things that he requests.
Prayers which are requests are extremely powerful. The actual
asking creates the correct feelings in a person’s mind, that all
that he has comes only from Hashem Himself and there is no
other means to get what he needs from Him. [I have not
explained at depth whether there are further areas in prayer,

have written in a generalized manner.]
Part 2: The clinging of one’s thoughts to Hashem,
during prayer and at all other times.

We will explain a little about the joining of thoughts with
Hashem. Joining one’s thoughts to Hashem is a very great
mitzvah. This is clear from the Rishonim and Acharonim, the
main mitzvah not being especially during prayer. On a high
level, a person would have his thoughts joined to Hashem at
every moment. Many Rishonim and Acharonim explain this, see
the Nefesh Hachaim (sha’ar 3: chapters 13 and 14) where he
writes about the holy Avot and about Moshe Rabbeinu who,
without a moments break, had their thoughts united with their
Creator, throughout their lives – see the Nefesh Hachaim for
many more details on this.

Of course, even someone who cannot manage this high level
should still try what he can. For most people, the most
successful time to do this is during prayers. If he cannot always
manage this he should at least try partially. How much one can
achieve this is very much dependant on the soul roots of a
person and on the individual details of his personal situation. In
any case, even one who cannot manage this should still not
despair, for even without this he can merit to high levels in
service of Hashem. What is almost certain is that even if he
cannot do this at present, there will be other times when he will
be able to achieve this. The principle here is that every situation
which is sent to a person from heaven, even though it seems to
him that it is a very difficult situation in which to serve Hashem,
he can strengthen himself with all his might to serve Hashem
with great and awesome servitude.

When it comes to being close to Hashem there are those who
err and think that it is just a sensation of the heart and nothing
more. This is not true. Even though it is expressed as a feeling of
being close to Hashem in one’s heart, in truth there is much
more to it than this. This is explained in Rishonim and
Acharonim [see the book ‘Sha’arei Kedushah’ of our teacher,
Harav Chaim Vital (3:5)] that through a person joining his
thoughts to his Creator, he is actually adding in a very real way
to his connection with the Creator of the world, strengthening
his soul’s link with Him. Additional outpourings from the
radiance of Hashem’s face descend to one who attaches himself
to his Creator.

It is difficult to extend here with a detailed explanation on
exactly how this works, since it is connected to so many
Kabbalistic ideas. Still the general idea remains from that which
is explained in Rishonim and Acharonim. Just as it is possible to
join two physical items together in this world through certain
actions e.g. two boards by hammering and nailing them
together, it is also possible to join the soul in a certain way to
The Creator Himself. The particular action which brings about
this join is the one which links a person’s thoughts with his
Creator. Although we have no grasp at all of the essence of
Hashem, we can still explain that through this connection,
Hashem will bring a holy spiritual outpouring to the soul of the
one who joins his thoughts to his Creator. It follows, that the
joining of thoughts to Hashem and the firing of one’s thoughts
to the causes of Hashem is not just intellectual or just
emotional; it is a reality. When a person thinks about Hashem
this he really changes to be more connected to the Creator of
the world with a very real spiritual connection.

Even though this connection is spiritual and a very real
existence. It can be compared to angels who are spiritual but
cannot be touched, still they most definitely exist.

It is obviously that even without this closeness, the soul of
every Jew is very much joined to his Creator and benefits from
the radiance of His face. All that is written here that it this
closeness is produced by a person thinking of his Creator, means
that it strengthens the connection and adds to it.

In truth, every mitzvah and every Torah learning improves
the bond of the soul with it’s Creator, as explained above. At
times when a person doesn’t feel this [the lack of this feeling is
explained at length in chapter 10], then the joining of thoughts
discussed here is a certain type of linking with Hashem which
definitely brings this feeling and has a unique spiritual
advantage over connections which one does not feel. This is not
necessarily more important; every area and for every mitzvah in
the service of Hashem has it’s own special advantages.
Part 3: More on the unification of one’s thoughts
with Hashem

It is important to know that many find it very difficult to
hear big demands in their search for closeness to Hashem. It is
necessary simply to pray and to try to concentrate on the
meaning of the words. The closeness will then come by itself. In
any case it is important to know the greatness of the attribute of
being close to Hashem, in order that a person concentrates more
on the meaning of the words of prayer. This will help him to
achieve closeness to Hashem. In addition, one who merits this
closeness to Hashem should try as hard as possible not to lose it.

The Ramchal writes in his book Adir Bamarom, that this
unity of thoughts with Hashem atones for sins, meaning that the
joining of the soul to the Creator cleans the soul from the dirt of
sin. He does not mean to exempt the mitzvah of repentance, or
to make light of doing sins for one who regularly experiences
closeness to Hashem. However, even when we are careful not to
sin and do repent, still to our regret there is always much to
correct. There is no place here to elaborate on this. One can
however help himself by being close to Hashem.

A person should know that the mitzvah of closeness to
Hashem is very precious. Even if one merits to this just once a
month or even less frequently, he should seize hold of what he
can merit, with all his strength. Those who find it easier to
achieve this closeness to Hashem, perhaps even experiencing it a
few times a day, either during the prayer times or outside of
prayer, should try all the more so in this area.

The Nefesh Hachaim explains at length in sha’ar 4 how the
unifying of one’s thoughts with Hashem at the time of studying
Torah is not necessary. This is because he is joined with the
Torah study and is therefore automatically considered as being
joined to Hashem, since Torah is the word of Hashem. See the
text inside for further discussion on the matter. In any case, even
though he agrees that there is no obligation in this area, still
there is a higher level if a person can add thoughts of his Creator
to his Torah learning – note well his words in sha’ar 3: chapter 14
near the end in brackets, and what is written above about this in
chapter 12: part 5: point 4, there is no place to elaborate further
here. In truth, there are those who find that the best way for
them to achieve closeness to Hashem is through the study of the
holy Torah. This raises their souls to link up with the Creator.

See further what is written above in part 2: point 2 about
this area for those who find it very hard to reach unifying their
thoughts with Hashem.
Part 4: Requests in prayer and personal requests

One of the fundamental principles in prayer is the
knowledge that The Holy One Blessed Be He is merciful. He does
favors, listens to the requests of those who beseech Him and
helps them. It is clear in our holy writings that there is no prayer
that returns empty-handed. Indeed every Jew’s appeal to Hashem
activates salvations. Sometimes Hashem uses a persons request
to produce a different salvation which is better suited to this
person. Still it is an obligation to know and to believe that many
times the salvation requested is indeed initiated.

Every person must familiarize himself with the belief that
everything that he wants and asks for is dependant only on The
Holy One Blessed Be He. It is written that this is actually part of
the mitzvah of requests in prayer which teaches that the matter
is dependant only on Hashem. This is great service of Hashem
and apart from this such a prayer will be accepted and delivered.

It is very important that a person regularly asks for the
things pertinent to him in a pleading manner. The more
imploring the prayer, the more it is accepted [especially if one
merits to beseech with tears as it says in the gemarah, “The
gates of tears were never locked”. We find in the anthology of
letters of the Chazon Ish how he advises to approach prayer for
success in Torah with tears, through contemplating with deep
pain how little merits one has in Torah, until from the pain he
comes to cry tears over it – see the letter itself – I don’t have the
book to hand at present].

There are those who find it easier to appeal with emotion if
he can word the request in his own way. This is permissible and
correct according to halacha. One may add a request at the end
of the Shemone Esreh before the last yiheyu lerotzon. A person
may also ask Hashem for his needs, with whichever words he
wants even not during prayer. [A person must take care not to
request bad for another person even if he causes him pain. This
is a very severe transgression, one should only pray for good

Chazal speak in many places how the circumstances of the
Jewish nation were very often changed for the better, all in the
merit of the prayers of individuals. The power of prayer is
immense. In the anthology of letters of the Chazon Ish there is
an expression saying, “Prayer is like a mighty stick in the hands
of man to hugely improve his circumstances, through pleading
about them to his Creator. His prayer will be accepted and his
situation will greatly improve.”