Rabbi Elazar said: This story proves that prayer is greater than good deeds without prayer (Tosafot), as there was none greater in the performance of good deeds than Moses our teacher; nevertheless, his request was granted, albeit in a limited manner, in his request to enter Eretz Yisrael, only through prayer, when God permitted him to climb the mountain and look out over the land. As, initially it is stated: “Speak no more to Me,” juxtaposed to which is: “Go up to the summit of the mountain.” After comparing and contrasting prayer and good deeds, the Gemara explores another comparison. Rabbi Elazar said: A fast is greater than charity. What is the reason that fasting is greater? Because a fast is a mitzva performed with one’s body as he afflicts himself, while charity is performed only with one’s money. In another comparison, Rabbi Elazar said: Prayer is greater than sacrifices, as it is stated: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me, says the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not desire the blood of bulls and sheep and goats” (Isaiah 1:11). And several verses later it is written: “And when you spread forth your hands I will hide My eyes from you, and even if you increase your prayer, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15). Not only Israel’s sacrifices, but even their prayers, which are on a higher spiritual level, will not be accepted. Speaking of that verse in Isaiah, the Gemara cites that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Any priest who killed a person may not lift his hands in the Priestly Blessing as it is stated: “And when you spread forth your hands I will hide My eyes from you…your hands are full of blood.” Here we see that the Priestly Blessing, performed with hands spread forth, is not accepted when performed by priests whose “hands are full of blood.” On the subject of prayer, Rabbi Elazar also said: Since the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked and prayer is not accepted as it once was, as it is said in lamentation of the Temple’s destruction: “Though I plead and call out, He shuts out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). Yet, despite the fact that the gates of prayer were locked with the destruction of the Temple, the gates of tears were not locked, and one who cries before God may rest assured that his prayers will be answered, as it is stated: “Hear my prayer, Lord, and give ear to my pleading, keep not silence at my tears” (Psalms 39:13). Since this prayer is a request that God should pay heed to the tears of one who is praying, he is certain that at least the gates of tears are not locked. With regard to the locking of the gates of prayer, the Gemara relates that Rava did not decree a fast on a cloudy day because it is stated: “You have covered Yourself in a cloud, through which prayer cannot pass” (Lamentations 3:44). The verse indicates that clouds are a bad omen, indicating that God has averted His face (Rav Hai Gaon). And Rabbi Elazar said: Since the day the Temple was destroyed an iron wall separates Israel from their Father in heaven, as it is stated to the prophet Ezekiel, instructing him to symbolize that separation: “And take for yourself an iron griddle, and set it as an iron wall between yourself and the city…it will be a sign for the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 4:3). The Gemara cites other statements in praise of prayer: Rabbi Ḥanin said that Rabbi Ḥanina said: Anyone who prolongs his prayer is assured that his prayer does not return unanswered; it will surely be accepted. From where do we derive this? From Moses our teacher, as it is stated that Moses said: “So I fell down before the Lord the forty days and forty nights that I fell down; and I prayed to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 9:26–27), and it is written thereafter: “And the Lord heard me that time as well, the Lord would not destroy you” (Deuteronomy 10:10). The Gemara raises an objection: Is that so? Didn’t Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba say that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Anyone who prolongs his prayer and expects it to be answered, will ultimately come to heartache, as it will not be answered. As it is stated: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). And what is the remedy for one afflicted with that illness? He should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “But desire fulfilled is the tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12), and tree of life is nothing other than Torah, as it is stated: “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and those who support it are joyous” (Proverbs 3:18). This is not difficult. This, Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba’s statement that one will suffer heartache refers to one who prolongs his prayer and expects it to be answered; that, Rabbi Ḥanin’s statement that one who prolongs his prayer is praiseworthy refers to one who prolongs his prayer and does not expect it to be answered. On a similar note, Rabbi Ḥama, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, said: A person who prayed and saw that he was not answered, should pray again, as it is stated: “Hope in the Lord, strengthen yourself, let your heart take courage, and hope in the Lord” (Psalms 27:14). One should turn to God with hope, and if necessary turn to God again with hope. Connected to the emphasis on the need to bolster one’s effort in prayer, the Gemara notes that the Sages taught in a baraita: Four things require bolstering, constant effort to improve, and they are: Torah, good deeds, prayer, and occupation. For each of these, a biblical proof is cited: From where is it derived that Torah and good deeds require bolstering? As it is stated in the instruction to Joshua: “Only be strong and be extremely courageous, observe and do all of the Torah that Moses My servant commanded you; do not deviate to the right or to the left, that you may succeed wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7). In this verse, observe refers to Torah study and do refers to good deeds (Maharsha); the apparently repetitive language is not extraneous. The Gemara derives: Be strong in Torah and be courageous in good deeds. From where is it derived that prayer requires bolstering? As it is said: “Hope in the Lord, strengthen yourself, let your heart take courage, and hope in the Lord.” From where is it derived that occupation requires bolstering? As it is stated: “Be strong and we will be strong for the sake of our nation and for the cities of our God” (II Samuel 10:12). All of one’s labor requires bolstering. The Gemara cites a midrash on the following verse from Isaiah, relating to the sin of the Golden Calf and Moses’ supplication for forgiveness: “But Zion said: The Lord has forsaken me and the Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her suckling baby, that she would not have compassion for the child of her womb? These may forget, but you I will not forget” (Isaiah 49:14–15). The Gemara seeks to clarify: Forsaken is the same as forgotten. They are synonymous; why repeat the same idea twice? Reish Lakish said: The community of Israel said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, even when a man marries a second wife after his first wife, he certainly recalls the deeds of his first wife. Yet You have not only forsaken me, but You have forgotten me as well. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Israel: My daughter, I created twelve constellations in the firmament, and for each and every constellation I have created thirty armies, and for each and every army I have created thirty legions [ligyon], and for each and every legion I have created thirty infantry division leaders [rahaton], and for each and every infantry division leader I have created thirty military camp leaders [karton], and for each and every military camp leader I have created thirty leaders of forts [gastera], and on each and every leader of a fort I have hung three hundred and sixty-five thousand stars corresponding to the days of the solar year. And all of them I have created only for your sake; and you said the Lord has forsaken me and the Lord has forgotten me? The verse goes on to say: “Can a woman forget her suckling baby, that she would not have compassion for the child of her womb? These may forget, but you I will not forget.” The meaning of this verse is that the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the community of Israel: Have I forgotten the ram offerings and firstborn animals that you offered before Me in the desert? The community of Israel replied to Him: Master of the Universe, since there is no forgetfulness before the Throne of Your Glory, perhaps you will not forget my sin of the Golden Calf? God responded to Israel: “These [elu] too shall be forgotten.” “These” is a reference to the sin of the Golden Calf, regarding which Israel said: “These [elu] are your gods.” The community of Israel said before Him: Master of the Universe, since there is forgetfulness before the Throne of Your Glory, perhaps You will also forget the events revolving around the revelation at Sinai? God said to Israel: I [anokhi] will not forget you the revelation at Sinai, which began with: “I [anokhi] am the Lord your God.” The Gemara notes: That is what Rabbi Elazar said that Rav Oshaya said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “These too will be forgotten”? That is the sin of the Golden Calf. And what is the meaning of I will not forget you? Those are the events that transpired at Sinai. We learned in the mishna that the early generations of pious men would wait one hour in order to achieve the solemn frame of mind appropriate for prayer. The Gemara asks: From where are these matters derived? Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: This is alluded to when the verse states: “Happy are those who dwell in Your House” (Psalms 84:5), immediately after which it is said: “They will yet praise You, Selah.” And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who prays must also wait one hour after his prayer, as it is stated: “Surely the righteous will give thanks unto Your name, the upright will sit before You” (Psalms 140:14), meaning that after thanking God through prayer, one should stay and sit before Him. That opinion was also taught in a baraita: One who prays must wait one hour before his prayer and one hour after his prayer. From where is it derived that one must wait one hour before his prayer? As it is stated: “Happy are those who dwell in Your House.” And from where is it derived that one must stay one hour after his prayer? As it is written: “Surely the righteous will give thanks unto Your name, the upright will sit before You.” The Sages taught in a baraita with regard to waiting before and after prayer: The early generations of pious men would wait one hour, pray one hour, then wait one hour again. This raises the question: Since the early pious men would spend nine hours per day engaged either in prayer or the requisite waiting periods before and after prayer, three hours each for the morning, afternoon, and evening prayers, how is their Torah preserved? There was little time remaining to review their studies. And how was their work accomplished? The Gemara answers: Rather, because they were pious they merited that their Torah is preserved and their work is blessed. Additionally, we learned in the mishna: Even if the king greets him while he is praying, he should not respond to him as one may not interrupt his prayer. In limiting application of this principle, Rav Yosef said: They only taught this mishna with regard to kings of Israel, as a Jewish king would understand that the individual did not fail to respond to his greeting due to disrespect for the king. However, with regard to kings of the nations of the world, he interrupts his prayer and responds to their greeting due to the potential danger. The Gemara raised an objection to Rav Yosef’s statement: One who is praying and saw a violent person, feared by all, coming toward him, or a carriage coming toward him and he is in the way, he should not stop his prayer but rather abridge it and move out of the way. The Gemara responds: This is not difficult. Rather, this that teaches to abridge one’s prayer rather than stopping, refers to a case where it is possible to abridge his prayer and complete it in time, in which case he should abridge it. And if it is not a situation where he can abridge his prayer, he interrupts his prayer. The Sages taught: There was a related incident, involving a particular pious man who was praying while traveling along his path when an officer [hegmon] came and greeted him. The pious man did not pause from his prayer and did not respond with a greeting. The officer waited for him until he finished his prayer.
After he finished his prayer, the officer said to him: You good for nothing. You endangered yourself; I could have killed you.
Isn’t it written in your Torah: “Take utmost care and guard yourself diligently” (Deuteronomy 4:9)?
And it is also written: “Take therefore good heed unto yourselves” (Deuteronomy 4:15)? Why did you ignore the danger to your life?
When I greeted you, why did you not respond with a greeting?
Were I to sever your head with a sword, who would hold me accountable for your spilled blood? The pious man said to him: Wait for me until I will appease you with my words.
He said to him: Had you been standing before a flesh and blood king and your friend came and greeted you, would you
return his greeting?