Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 12 October 2013 / 8 Heshvan 5774

The First Prayer

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“Now all the trees of the field were not yet on the earth, and all the herbs of the field had not yet sprouted, for G-d had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the land.” (Gen. 2:6)

Rashi explains this verse, based on Talmud (Chullin 60b), that when G-d finished creating the world the earth remained desolate until Adam was created. Once Adam realized that both he and the world depended on rain for their survival, Adam began praying. Once the rain began to fall, trees and plants appeared on the earth.

Why did G-d wait for Adam to pray before He sent rain? Furthermore, why was man needed to work the land? G-d could surely have maintained the trees and plant life without man’s assistance!

Chazal explain in the Zohar that man is referred to as a “miniature world” since he was endowed with a portion of all the worlds –– a soul from the upper worlds and a body that was formed from the four corners of the earth. Consequently, man was charged with the duty to turn to G-d and pray on behalf of all of creation.

Working the Land

Man’s first expression of working for the betterment of the world was not by actually cultivating the land, but rather by praying for it. Why, then, is it stated in this verse: “and there was no man to work the land”?

The Torah calls prayer “the work of the heart” (Ta’anit 2a). It follows that the word “work” in the above verse can be understood as a reference to Adam’s prayer. Accordingly, the phrase “There was no man to work the land” teaches us that there was no one to pray for the land.

In the Beginning

Before man committed the first sin, he was not required to do any physical work. All he had to do was adhere to G-d’s instructions; namely, to fulfill the mitzvot required of him, and to help sustain the creation through his prayers. By fulfilling these precepts, man expresses his devotion to G-d and dependence on G-d. Consequently, these deeds alone provided Adam with the necessary merit of partaking of the world’s goodness.

The requirement for man to do physical work was added to his role as a punishment for his having committed the first sin. Nowadays, even though according to the natural order of things man must do physical work, one must not forget that the essential work of man is the work of the heart — i.e., prayer. Prayer serves as a testimony to man’s faith in G-d and it is the true source of all G-d’s blessings.

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