From the beginning of the month of Elul until Hoshana Rabbah we recite twice daily the 27th Chapter of Psalms, in which King David says, “Achat sha’alti mei’eit Hashem oto avakeish” — “One thing I ask of G‑d, that is also what I desire.”

While on the surface, it appears to be repetitious, the truth is that King David is teaching us a lesson of cardinal importance concerning our communication, via prayer, to Hashem.

Unfortunately, sometimes the things which “sha’alti” — “we ask for” — and “avakeish” — “what we desire and strive for” —are not really “achat” — “one,” i.e. identical. King David is proclaiming, “that which I ask for” and “that which I want and desire” are “achat” — identical. You may wonder, is there anyone who is foolish enough to pray for one thing and work to defeat his own prayers? The answer is “yes.” Permit me to cite some examples.

Throughout the year, we pray for good health and for a tranquil life. After our prayers, we plunge into work and worry, in which our physical health and nervous system get an awful beating. Thus, the “sha’alti” — “what we asked for” — is not complemented by the “avakeish” — “our desires.”

We pray, “Our G‑d, Our Father, return us to You in full repentance.” Can we honestly say that we want Hashem to grant this prayer? Do we seriously intend to alter our ways and really do teshuvah? Is the “avakeish” compatible with “sha’alti”?

We pray for the speedy redemption of our people and that Mashiach should bring us to our Holy Land. But are we really ready for Mashiach? Do we seriously want to give up our pseudo-security and our comforts to follow Mashiach to our Holy Land?

In the olden days there were tzaddikim who took self-imposed exile upon themselves. They would travel from city to city, concealing their identity. Once, such a tzaddik spent a night at an inn which belonged to a Jew who was alienated from Yiddishkeit. At midnight, the tzaddik began to recite the prayer of Chatzot. He sat on the floor with candles around him and wept over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, praying for Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash. The innkeeper, hearing cries, traced them to the room of the tzaddik. With his master-key he opened the door and beholding the strange scene, asked, “What is wrong? Why are you crying? Are you not feeling well?” The tzaddik explained that he was crying over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and praying for the speedy revelation of Mashiach. With the assurance that his guest was not ill, the innkeeper went back to sleep.

In the morning, he related to his elderly mother the strange episode he witnessed the night before. His mother happened to know about Yiddishkeit, but she had become estranged. She instructed him to go to the tzaddik and ask him to suspend his prayers for Mashiach for three weeks because there was a three week’s supply of lard in the barrel which she did not want to have to throw out.

Unfortunately, there are many who verbally pray for Mashiach without really being ready to give up their attachments to behaviors and lifestyles which may not be entirely “kosher.”

So you see, dear friends, sometimes we utter prayers without consciously putting an ear to what we are saying. Let us strive during these days of prayer and teshuvah, to be earnest in the requests which we place before Hashem and not only “sha’alti” — “ask of Hashem” — but also “avakeish” — “desire and strive” to change our daily life for the better.

(הרב דוד ע"ה הולונדער)