The Greatness of Gratitude
The Baal Shem Tov would say that whoever worries about their daily sustenance and any personal business before Shacharit does not receive G-d’s help, even if he fears Heaven. This is because he demonstrates that his personal business comes before, and matters more to him, than his religious duties (which is also what our Sages teach [Berachot 14a]). Before starting anything, a man should go to synagogue, recite his prayers, and trust in G-d. It is only afterwards that he should think of his material sustenance, the Baal Shem Tov concludes.
In our humble opinion, the one who thinks of his business and works before praying demonstrates that G-d is not able to help him. It especially demonstrates that his love for money prevails over his love of G-d. He therefore becomes unable to pray with concentration, and he rushes to finish so as to get back to the work he started before praying. Such conduct is obviously reprehensible.
On the other hand, one who goes to synagogue before doing anything else demonstrates that he trusts in G-d, Whom he loves with all his heart. Hence Hashem will surely help him in all the work of his hands. With regards to this, the Talmud cites the exemplary conduct of Rav Safra and applies to him the verse, “[He] speaks truth from his heart” (Psalms 15:2). He never reflected upon business or thought about what time it was during prayer (Makot 24a).
We often hear the complaints of people who are assailed by all sorts of strange thoughts during prayer, especially during Shacharit. These people are generally pious Jews, who rise early and pray without rushing, and who regularly study a page of Gemara or Chok LeIsrael after their morning prayers.
“What did you do last night before going to sleep?” we ask in response. “You no doubt watched television, that cursed device, or read a secular book instead of studying Torah. Surely you entertained impure thoughts.” Someone who acts in this way will no doubt not awake with pure thoughts in the morning. What he saw (or read) the night before will remain engraved in his mind. His prayers will not be worthy of being described as such unless he rids himself of the effects that these images left on him. This is why the Halachah commands a man to go to bed only after he has studied some Torah (Mishnah Berurah 238, from Shnei Luchot HaBrit). He will therefore awaken with a tranquil mind, filled with wisdom and Torah, and his prayers will be answered.
After reciting the bedtime Shema, we are thus assured of a peaceful night. If we “tremble and sin not; reflect in your hearts while on your beds and be utterly silent” (Psalms 4:5), meaning that if we make good prevail over evil during the night, we will be in no way harmed. As the Arizal wrote, “At night, man’s soul ascends to the celestial spheres, learns Torah with the Tzaddikim, and rejoices in the glory of the Divine Presence.” When it returns to its body in the morning, it sanctifies it even more. If a person washes his hands upon rising to cleanse himself of impurities that accumulated during the night (Zohar I:169b), then goes to synagogue in reverence and love, he will rid himself of all strange thoughts, and his prayer and Torah study will be faultless.
In the final analysis, everything depends on remembering the exodus from Egypt, for our Sages enjoined us to recall it day and night (Berachot 1:5), as it is written: “So that you remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Deuteronomy 16:3). “The days of your life” refers to the days only; “All the days of your life” refers to the nights as well. It is also appropriate to recall it while on our beds at night and in the morning upon awakening, for the Shema that we recite at night ends with the verse, “I am the L-RD your G-d Who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Numbers 15:41), and in the Tefillin four passages refer to it.
Thus when we recall the exodus from Egypt both day and night, we think of the Children of Israel that Hashem brought from slavery to liberty despite all their impurities. We also – we who are free because of our Torah study – need G-d’s help to rid ourselves of our evil inclination. If we unfortunately abstain from studying diligently, we risk falling into the Satan’s net (Zohar III:25b).
Let us therefore be careful about what we do at night before going to bed. Let us invoke G-d’s Name and implore Him to forgive and purify us as He purified the Children of Israel in Egypt, as well as to hasten our Final Redemption. We will achieve this through sincere faith and by being content with what Hashem truly desires to give us.