If You Only Had One Chance to Daven for the Rest of Your Life, What Would You Daven For?

It was my last night in Eretz Yisroel, three years ago. The flight was leaving from Ben Gurion at midnight, and I wanted to catch Maariv at the Kosel before heading to the airport.

I pulled up a chair, a Sefer Tehillim, and began to Daven while waiting for a Maariv minyan to start. Moments late, a young man, a holy Yerushalmi Jew sat next to me, opened his own tehillim and began to daven with amazing intensity. I looked up from my own tefillah to take in the sights and sounds.

Just then, I remembered that Chazal (ב״ק צ״ב א׳) tell us that whoever davens for someone else, and they need that thing, they are answered first.

I had no idea what this Yid was davening for, but my chutzpah got the better of me and I wanted to join in with his tefillah. So I turned to him and asked: “What are you davening for? I want to daven with you.”

He turned to me and explained that he has been in Yeshivos for a number of years. He told that he had finished Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi multiple times. He's holding in Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Medrash and Zohar. But Hashem hasn't yet giving him a Shidduch, and it's getting hard to for him to stay hopeful.

I told him that I had no answers for him, no solutions, even as I wish I could take the pain away. But I could be there with him. I told him that it would be my honor to daven with him and so for the next fifteen minutes we davened together.

The first Maariv minyan was about to begin. I told him it was soon time for me to leave and catch my flight.

Just before I left, he turned to me and asked me a question that has haunted me since: “Thank you for davening with me, it means so much. I was feeling so down on myself, so upset, and you lifted me up. I want to return the favor. Tell me, what's one thing that you want from Hashem? Just one thing, and I'll daven for that for the rest of my life.”

I was taken aback. That's a great offer. A Talmid Chacham in Yerushalayim davening for me for the rest of his life? What should I ask for? What's the one thing that I will always need? Dozens of ideas floated through my head in second. Should I ask for Parnasah? Refuah? Success in Torah and Mitzvos? Truthfully, all of these are too limited. Who says I will outlive this holy Jew? What do I want him to daven for, forever?

In that moment I realized that ultimately what I was being asked was to think of the ideas, ideals, values, dreams and tefillos that transcend me and my own life. Which of my tefillos are bigger than me? Which of my tefillos are more important than me? It was an eye opening and humbling experience.

What would you have asked for?

Nowadays, I try to come back to these questions regularly. All too often, our perspectives are little more than tunnel vision. So we daven for small things. Of course, even the smallest of things warrants a Tefillah, but how high are we truly aiming? Are we dreaming of comfort and success or perhaps something greater.

Dovid HaMelech says in Tehillim (קט:יד):

תַּחַת־אַהֲבָתִי יִשְׂטְנוּנִי וַאֲנִי תְפִלָּה In return for my love they are my adversaries; But I am all prayer.

Rav Moshe Dovid Vali (the Talmid of the Ramchal) explains that what Dovid HaMelech was saying וַאֲנִי תְפִלָּה is that even when Jews hate me, I'm davening for them. Because the world that I want to build and develop is bigger than me. וַאֲנִי תְפִלָּה means that my life is defined in service of something greater than myself.

The Gra teaches (אבן שלמה ט:ח) that the primary focus of all Tefilla is for Klal Yisrael. And Reb Chaim Volozhiner (נפש החיים שער ב פי״א) explains that even when davening for our own parnassa and refuah and hatzlacha we should ultimately be davening “Hashem, please help me to fill your world with Kedusha and Tahara. This is what I'll need to achieve it...”

The Baal Shem Tov (בעל שם טוב בראשית פרשת נח קכו) explains similarly that at its core, tefillah is not for the individual at all, but for the absence of Hashem in this world to be cured.

These two kinds of Tefillah – myopic vs universal – are two ways to live our lives. The Torah (ד:מז) tells us in our Parsha of that these two ideas are reflected in kinds of work that the Levi'im were appointed to do in the Mishkan:

...כׇּל־הַבָּ֗א לַעֲבֹ֨ד עֲבֹדַ֧ת עֲבֹדָ֛ה וַעֲבֹדַ֥ת מַשָּׂ֖א בְּאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃ Everyone who entered in to do the work of service, and the work of bearing burdens in the Tent of Meeting.

Rav Aharon of Karlin (בית אהרן פ׳ נשאofKarlin%2CNumbers%2CNasso.2?vhe=BeitAharon,Brody,_1875.&lang=bi)) notes:

There is work called עֲבֹדַת עֲבֹדָה. Work for the sake of work. This is work that needs to be done. Earning a living so that we can support our families, eating so that we have the energy to serve Hashem. Learning Torah so that we can fulfill the mitzvos.

But there is another kind of work, עֲבֹדַת מַשָּׂא – the work of lifting up, of raising up. This work is externally indistinguishable from עֲבֹדַת עֲבֹדָה. It's the same going to work, eating dinner, taking out the trash, paying taxes and packing the kids' bags for camp. But this raises us, it elevates us, gives meaning and substance and purpose to the experience.

It's possible for a person to be fulfilling every detail of the Shulchan Aruch and still live a life of עֲבֹדַת עֲבֹדָה. And it's a possible for a person that doesn't know the difference between kiddish and kaddish to be being living a life of עֲבֹדַת מַשָּׂא – raising themselves up.

It is this theme that begins the count of the Jewish people throughout Sefer BaMidbar, שאו את ראש – raise up the heads of the Jewish people. And our Parsha begins with:

נָשֹא אֶת־רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי גֵרְשׁוֹן גַּם־הֵם... “Take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ houses, by their families;

The Abir Yaakov writes, that this pasuk invites all those that are the “Sons of Gershon” those who are “מגורשין – distant”, from Hashem to be raised up. To experience the aspirations of בני עליה, to become people who are growing. Quite literally, נָשֹא אֶת־רֹאשׁ is a directive to us to start looking upwards once again.

This raising up is not confined to the world of looking. The Torah this week teaches us about ברכת כהנים – which, in Halacha, is formally referred to as נשיאת כפים- the raising of the hands.

Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the Kohen lifting his hands to bless the nation harkens back to the war between Klal Yisrael and Amalek where Moshe sat atop the mountain and raised his hands to inspire the nation to place their trust in Hashem as they raised their own hands in battle. The job of the Kohen, thus, is to inspire us to lift out own hands, to climb to the next rung of the ladder to Shamayim.

Hashem should help us this week, this summer, to look up again. To discover Him in everything that we do, to find the tefillah that's greater than ourselves, and to daven that He raises us all up to become Bnei Aliyah.