15 Kislev 5781 / Tuesday, December 01, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayishlach
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A Template for Personal Prayer    

A Template for Personal Prayer

How do we best utilize our daily hour of personal prayer? How do we budget our time and focus our prayers? It’s best to start with a template…


Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody

In Forest Fields, Part 58
Prayer is essentially self-composure, where we clarify our innermostthoughts. Prayer should answer several significant questions: What is the truth? How are we to behave in each situation? Prayer arouses a person and enables him to internalize knowledge while begging Hashem to have mercy upon him and to grant that which he is praying for.
Personal prayers also encompass one's gratitude for the miracles he has already experienced and for all the help that he has already received in regard to that which he is praying for. They should also include thanks for the privilege of continued praying daily for this specific objective. For if a person is being allowed to continue to pray for something, this is a wonderful sign that Hashem desires to redeem him in this matter, as Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said: “If I see that the prayer is planted in my mouth then I know it will be accepted. For this, a person must be extremely grateful.”
Our prayer must include daily self-evaluation; one must consider where he failed in the matter which he is trying to correct. He must contemplate why he failed. This must be a very careful self-examination since it is connected to the matter upon which he is working to repair. The examination therefore reveals areas of needed improvement that one must pray to rectify. One cannot attain a higher level until he improves himself at his current level. Even if he no longer fails in this matter, he must ask Hashem to help him avoid fooling himself that he’s perfect, and to realize that he still has work to do and plenty to pray for with the continued help from Above. Without Hashem’s help, we can do nothing.
One must also look ahead to anticipate coming challenges. For example, a man may be making an effort to guard his eyes. He knows that he’ll be attending a wedding, a family event, or a business meeting on the following day. He must pray that Hashem will help him precisely at those moments when he’ll be exposed to forbidden sights. And as said earlier, the major part of the prayer will be a simple repetition of his request, “Hashem, help me guard my eyes. Help me not to fall into self-deception. Give me the courage and conviction to close my eyes as needed.” These prayers invoke Divine assistance and compassion, and merit him a "visa' from Heaven to guard his eyes.
Of course, if a person has yet to achieve a strong and decisive enough conviction to clarify the truth - namely, that guarding one's eyes is only a matter of closing them - then one must develop this conviction through self-composure, as described in the previous chapter. He must clarify his thoughts to the extent that he recognizes the truth and is therefore unwilling to compromise on what’s right. When in doubt, he should consult his rabbi and spiritual guide.
The correct order and a good template for our prayers is therefore:
* Expressing our gratitude;
* Evaluating ourselves and preparing for upcoming challenges;
* Seeking Hashem’s help, with the understanding there can be no success without His help. We therefore must devote much prayer to requesting Hashem’s assistance.
* Asking Hashem to help us correct the bad habit or negative character trait that we’re attempting to change.
The above is a personal prayer template for all issues. Take for example the characteristic of anger: here too one must develop the self-composure necessary to clarify the truth, until he builds the sound and decisive cognizance that no situation in the world justifies anger or an angry reaction. In truth, anger is a statement that one is actually angry at Hashem. One’s personal prayer should also include gratitude to Hashem for the trying circumstances where in fact he did merit to avoid anger or to be less angry then before. Also, he can’t be complacent and must pray for success in future challenges. For example if he knows he will be attending a meeting on the morrow which may cause him anger, he should pray, "Hashem, help me to avoid getting angry at all costs." Or "Tomorrow I’ll be helping my son with his homework, and I may face a test of anger. Give me patience, Hashem, and help me from getting angry."
Every prayer should include everything that you’ve learned so far in regard to the issue you’re praying for. The chapter "Emuna and Emotions" in the book "The Garden of Emuna" is a useful aid, for it explains how each trait is founded upon faith. That way, we learn how to pray in attaining a positive trait or in uprooting a negative trait. The main principle is to pray for an extended period of time and with simple words, pleading and begging for mercy; that the Holy One will help us overcome the evil inclination and succeed in correcting a character flaw, ridding ourselves of a bad habit, or nullifying a particular bodily desire.
We must repeatedly emphasize the necessity to dedicate at least one week of concentrated prayer to a particular issue. Once again, if a person does not allow himself the chance to witness the power of prayer and its ability to invoke miracles, he will never attain faith in the power of prayer. This means that he will never attain faith in G-d, for believing in G-d means believing in prayer.
Believing in prayer indicates faith in one's own prayers, a faith that through his own prayer he can bring about salvations and all good. Personal salvation through prayer necessitates lengthy prayers. When one’s prayers have not yet been answered it is a sign that one needs more prayers. Rabbi Chanina said: "One who lengthens his prayers, his prayers will not go unanswered". 
To be continued.

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