On the days preceding Yom Kippur, a student asked one of the great Chassidic masters what he can do to guarantee that his prayers will be accepted. The Rebbi instructed him that before Yom Kippur sets in he should pay a visit to the house of a certain simple Jew, and just listen outside his window to learn “how one must pray”. The determined student arrives over an hour before sunset, in order not to miss a word of the angelic prayer he is expecting to hear, and parks himself next to the window. He waits and waits but hears nothing but ordinary sounds coming from the house; the clanking of dishes, some chitter chatter, a kid kvetching that he can’t find his shoes, an annoyed wife because the house is a mess, etc. Finally after almost a full hour, as the sun is about to set and the holiness of Yom Kippur is about to set in, the simple Jew sits down at the table in his simple home, pulls out a small bottle of whiskey, and pours himself a small glass. He lifts the glass up and whispers these few words. “Master of the world, I know that I wronged you many, many times this year, and I really don’t have a good excuse. But, let’s face it. You were pretty rough on me as well. Business was tough. Sleepless nights were plenty. My health could’ve been better. So, let’s make a deal. I am willing to start the whole thing over, fresh. You forgive me, and I’ll forgive you. L’chaim!”
What was the beauty of this man’s prayer? It was the absolute simplicity. It was the realness with God. It was the prayer of a son speaking to his father.
The Torah relates that when Yaakov is bidding his son Yosef a final farewell before his death he presents him with an additional inheritance the other brothers didn’t receive. He presents it by saying “this is the portion that I acquired with my sword and with my bow.” The commentaries struggle to find an incident in Yaakov’s life where he acquired any property through warfare. Onkelos, however, presents a deeper understanding for these words that “the sword” is really a metaphor for standard prayer, and “the bow” is a metaphor for the personal conversations one has with the Almighty. By preparing for us a standard text for prayer, our Sages gave us a “sword” to destroy the spiritual barriers that separate us from the Almghty. But once the path is clear and the target is in range, we need to pierce the heavens with the strength of heartfelt words flowing from the deepest place within our hearts that are compared to a bow.
There is a story related in the Midrash that tells of one of Moshe's prophetic experiences. In his transcendental state, God grants Moshe the freedom to look through the "storehouses" in Heaven. Moshe peaks into one of the storehouses and sees a huge amount of blessing waiting to be showered on the world. He asks God who it is for. God says, "This is for those who diligently study Torah." Moshe peaks into another and again sees an overwhelming amount of blessing waiting to be showered on the world. He asks God who this is for. God answers. "This is for those who are generous with their gifts to charity." Moshe then peaks into a third and sees an unimaginable amount of blessing waiting to be showered on the world. This one has even more than the first two! He asks God who this is for. God replies, "This is for those who just simply ask for it."
The message of this Midrash is absolutely beautiful. All God wants from us is to simply humble ourselves and just speak to him. The greatest compliment we can give anyone is to feel comfortable enough to just ask an open and honest request. I need you. Can you please help? When we pray to God in this manner, we can gain access to the storehouse in Heaven that has an unlimited inventory of His infinite light just waiting to be showered on us and the people we love. No price tag. No strings attached.
When was the last time we took ten minutes out of our busy day just to have some private time with our Creator? It doesn’t have to be to kvetch or even to ask for something. Just to say hi, or to say thank you, or to say… L’Chaim! At first it might feel like the Almighty isn’t holding up his end of conversation very well. But, as the Baal Shem Tov used to say, even though nowadays Hashem doesn’t speak to us face to face, he is always right there behind us whispering the answer into our ear. And when this occurs we will suddenly start to feel the fire and vigor of prayer because, just as those pious men of the Talmud, we will experience the feeling of being real with, and being loved by, our father in heaven.