An unlearned chassid would recite his prayers in prolonged meditation. His conduct attracted the attention of his colleagues who wondered what was the subject of his lengthy contemplation. “What are you thinking aboutwhile you are praying?” they inquired.

With whole-hearted simplicity, the chassid repeated a teaching he had heard from the Alter Rebbe. In the Book of Exodus, the Ten Commandments introduce the Sabbath with the word Zachor (“remember”). In the repetition of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Deuteronomy, however, this command begins with the word Shamor (“Observe”; literally, “pay heed to”). Our Sages explain that there is no contradiction: “Shamor and Zachor were recited in one statement.” The Alter Rebbe offered a non-literal interpretation of their words: “In every statement, a person should remember and pay heed to the One.”

“That,” he told his attentive colleagues, “is what I try to do when I pray.”

There are two dimensions to prayer:

a) Asking G‑d for our needs. This is very important, for we should realize that He — and not our own efforts — is the ultimate source for our success and well-being.

b) Connecting with Him. Each one of us has moments when he or she rises above thinking about his wants or needs. At that time,we pray so that we establish a bond and identify with G‑d and His purpose.

Parshas Tetzaveh

This week’s Torah reading contains the command to construct the golden altar, the altar that was placed inside the Sanctuary itself. Now last week’s Torah reading related the command to construct the outer altar in the courtyard of the Sanctuary. Questions immediately come to mind: Why aren’t the two altars mentioned together? Why are many other concepts introduced between the two?

The resolution of these questions is based on the concept that the Sanctuary provided a visible representation of the private sanctuary each one of us possesses in our hearts. An altar points to man’s efforts to approach G‑d. Just as, within our own hearts, we have feelings that we show to others, and inner, more powerful feelings that we usually keep to ourselves; so, too, in the Sanctuary, there was an outer altar in public view, and an inner altar within the Sanctuary itself.

The sacrifices were offered on the outer altar. קרבן, the Hebrew word for sacrifices, comes from the root קרב, meaning “close.” The sacrifices brought a person closer to G‑d.

The incense offering was brought on the inner altar. קטרת, meaning “incense,” shares a connection with the word קטר, meaning “bond.” The incense offering did not merely draw us close to G‑d; it established a bond with Him.

The difference between the two is obvious. Wanting to be close indicates that there exists a distance, and more importantly that the person who desires to be close feels as a separate entity. He may realize the positive qualities of the article or the person to whom he desires to draw close. He may love that person powerfully, but ultimately, the relationship is between two separate people.

When people bond, they subsume their personal identities to that of the new entity which is formed. A couple are not merely two people in love; they have bonded themselves into a new and more complete union.

The incense offering refers to the establishment of such a bond with G‑d. A person loses sight of who he or she is and identifies with G‑d and His purpose. He is no longer so concerned with his own personal wants or needs, but sees a larger picture. He begins looking at the world from G‑d’s perspective.

This difference is also reflected in the substances involved in the two offerings. On the outer altar, meat, fats, and blood were offered, fleshy substances identified with the body. On the inner altar, incense — spices which produce a pleasant fragrance — were offered. Our Sages speak of fragrance as a substance from which the soul derives benefit, not the body.

Thus the outer altar represents our drawing close to G‑d from the perspective of our bodies, while the inner altar represents the bond with Him established by our souls. Since they represent two very different aspects of our Divine service, the two altars are mentioned in different Torah readings.

Looking to the Horizon

Our desire for Mashiach’s coming can also be seen from these two perspectives. There are some who seek Mashiach for their own purposes. Some desire the material prosperity that will accompany the Redemption. For then, “good things will flow in abundance and all delights will be as accessible as dust.” Others are concerned with spiritual fulfillment. They yearn for the outpouring of G‑dly knowledge that will characterize that era.

There is, however, a common denominator between these — and many other intermediary — approaches. They look at the Redemption from man’s point of view: what, either materially or spiritually, he will get out of it.

There is another perspective. G‑d created the world for the sake of Mashiach. From the beginning of existence, G‑d sought a dwelling in this mortal realm. Our desire for redemption should focus not on what we are lacking, but on what He is lacking, as it were, that His desire has not yet been fulfilled.