The Importance of reciting
the Patach Eliyahu
We find that many Kabbalists, including the Chida and the Ramak, speak about the importance of reading the Patach Eliyahu, but do not actually explain why we should read it.
In this introduction, we hope to give a perspective on why it is important to say before tefilah, and in the process, to discover something very important about the tefilah and how we are really meant to pray.
The first thing to know is that there are basically two approaches to tefilah. One is a very common method of praying, though there are some problems with it, while the other is really the proper way of praying. To understand further, we must also break down a tefilah moment into three components and then look at them in context of the two approaches. They are: the person praying, the situation in the person's life, and Hashem.
The Pilzno Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Singer, zt’l, would say that we really only experience two types of feelings in life – good and not good. When we find ourselves in a not good experience, we turn to Hashem, using the most common method of tefilah, asking one of the three following requests: To stop the experience, to change the experience, or to prevent the experience from happening (if it has not yet happened).
This is a fine and natural reaction, but there is a problem. Why? If we think about it, we are approaching this type of prayer with three pre-suppositions:
1. Hashem changes His mind 2. I can change Hashem's mind 3. This experience should change without me having to change. This form of davening is, in essence, bribery and self-serving. In contrast, in the other type of tefilah, the more Kabbalistic form, the same components - the person, the situation, and Hashem - are there, but the difference is that you do not ask Hashem to change because Hashem does not change. Hashem has, is, and will always be the same, and I cannot change Hashem's ‘mind’. Ok, so then what am I praying for?
You are actually praying that you should change. If I go through an unfortunate situation, I ask Hashem to help me change. The Kabbalists explain that Hashem loves us, wants to give us good, and everything that Hashem sends to us is for the best. Therefore when I come to tefilah with the pre-suppositions that Hashem does not change, I cannot change Him, and everything that He does stems from love, I can then access the level of asking Hashem to please change ME so that I can see the situation for what it really is, an expression of Hashem's love. That is what I want to be praying for. Really, our goal is to reach a higher level of consciousness, to see everything from the side of Hashem’s Chesed (kindness), Ahava (love), and Malchut (Rulership). Here is a story that illustrates this beautifully: Once the Noam Elimelech, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, found himself in a town that was suffering from a terrible plague. He fasted for three days to try to stop the plague, to annul the decree from Shamayim. When he eventually passed out from hunger, the Magid of Mezritch, his Rebbe, came to him in a vision.
The Noam Elimelech asked his Rebbe why there is such a bad situation, this plague. The Magid answered that from his vantage point he could not see clearly, so he had to go up higher in the worlds. So the Magid went up, then came back down, and said that everything seems fine. The Noam Elimelech said, "I do not understand. Things are not good here." The Magid stopped and thought for a while and answered him, "In the World of Truth, we see the bigger picture, that Hashem loves us and that this plague is really part of a much broader plan. But from your point of view, in the middle of the situation, it does not look good at all.” Then the Noam Elimelech woke from his sleep, now a changed person, realizing that there was a bigger story going on, even though he did not understand it. With that realization he began dancing, and within a few minutes, the whole community started to dance and the Heavenly decree was broken. This all happened because he changed himself. It is important to know that we are a vessel, a kli, that receives the shefa (energies) of Ohr Ain Sof that Hashem is always sending down to us through the sefirot. The sefirot are like taps, so to speak, which Hashem opens corresponding to whatever state we are in.
From this, we can see what happened with the Noam Elimelech. As he shifted his consciousness from katnut (smallness) to gadlut (greatness), the shefa that was coming down upon him changed from a lower to a higher level, thus his simcha overflowed to the extent that it affected others and changed the entire fate of that town. The lesson here is that though we may not know what is going on, or why, just knowing that there is a bigger picture, and putting the effort into seeking the positive, brings a new quality of shefa down to us which instantly changes the situation. We can also say that when we are in mochin d'katnut (constricted consciousness), we lose a grip on the true nature of a situation, but once we come to a broader consciousness, we can have the ability to properly deal with that same once-unclear situation. Certainly we have all experienced this in our lives.
This can also be understood from a simple perspective as well. How do we explain that two brothers can both survive a Holocaust, one coming out of it bitter while the other one comes out emotionally whole and strong? The bitter brother might have prayed to change the situation, but when it seemed his tefilot were not being answered, he went into a state of blamed either himself, somebody else, the situation itself, or even Hashem. When a person blames, he ends up very bitter and people do not want to be around him. The other brother, in contrast, knew and lived with the proper beliefs that “Hashem loves me, everything that He does is for the best, I may not know the truth of what is going on, but I can learn at least one good thing out of the situation."
So, first he looks for one positive way of viewing the situation. Then he then thinks about it and internalizes it so that it becomes wisdom. Now from that wisdom he can make better choices, and from those better choices he can have more definition and control over his direction in life. Of course, Hashem may not want him to go in that direction that he thinks is correct, but he will surely go through the process again if he needs to change.
And we say in two verses: "Chochmat adam tair panav" – “A person’s wisdom illuminates his face” and "Chochmat tichieh" – “Wisdom will gives life.” When a person has this chochma, when he is davening that HE himself should change, and he himself should open up his eyes to see what is going on, he in fact, opening different taps from different levels upon himself. Hopefully we now we have a better understand of the two forms of tefilah - the problematic form, and the Kabbalistic form, and which one will truly help us grow. After all of this, how does the Patach Eliyahu fit into what we just discussed?
It is actually a description of how the shefa comes down to us through the sefirot, and is thus trying to connect us to the Kabbalistic form of tefilah, which is to change the self, to raise our consciousness. This is the reason why the Sefaradim and Chassidim are careful to say it, to remind themselves that when we pray, we are not praying to Hashem to change His mind, to change the situation, or to hold back the situation. We are saying, "I know Hashem does not change and I know that everything Hashem does for us is from love, ahava.”
Instead, I am asking myself to change, and I am learning from the Patach Eliyahu which is telling me that if I know how to pray properly, the right shefa will open up on me and that will change the situation. This is a way that we can understand why the Patach Eliyahu is located before tefilah and why it is so important.