Rashi writes, "Moav and Midyan always hated one another…but because they feared Bnei Yisrael, they made peace… When they saw Yisrael winning wars miraculously, they said, 'their leader grew up in Midyan. Let us ask Midyan what is his strength? [Midyan replied] 'His strength is solely in his mouth.' Moav said, 'We will also confront him with someone whose strength is with his mouth,'" and they hired Bilam. The strength of the Jewish nation at that time, and always will be, is their prayer. The nations of the world recognized that, and therefore were very afraid of the Jewish nation.
The Noam Elimelech zt'l writes, "Balak understood that the Jewish people can accomplish whatever they desire with words. As Chazal say, 'A tzaddik decrees, and Hashem complies,' (Moed Kattan 16). Balak understood that what Yisrael accomplishes is because of their prayers."
The strength of the Jewish nation, both on a communal or on an individual level, is due to their prayers. We do our efforts, we do the best we can, but we never forget that our primary strength is prayer.
We are encouraged to pray at an eis ratzon, a time when the prayers have a better chance to be answered. As Dovid HaMelech said, 'My prayer to you Hashem is at an eis ratzon' (Tehillim 69:14) and the Gemara says that an eis ratzon is when the tzibur is praying, because “Hakadosh Baruch Hu never despises the prayer of a congregation" (Brachos 8). So therefore, yes, we have the power of prayer as individuals, but strive to use that strength with a minyan, since at those times the power of your prayer is multiplied manifold. The Beis Aharon taught, " Of this, I’m certain: prayer b'tzibur helps for all matters. Prayer b'tzibur is as powerful as the prayer of the greatest tzaddik of the generation."
The Rebbe of Radishitz zt'l added that the verse, "Serve Hashem and Hashem will bless your bread and your water and He will remove illnesses from you," is also referring to prayer. The verse is referring to prayer b’tzibur. When you pray with a minyan, you will have parnassah and health.
The Ksav Sofer zt'l taught that prayer b’tzibur is mesugal for parnassah. One who prays with a minyan will merit rain, which hints at parnassah. The Ksav Sofer explains that at times, being cautious to pray with a minyan seems to cause people to lose parnassah. For what if a great business deal comes up just at the time that there is a minyan? He will forfeit the deal to pray with a minyan. The verse encourages us not to be concerned about that, because being cautious to pray with a minyan will grant you even more parnassah. So whatever you lose by davening with a minyan, you will gain even more so because of your devotion to pray with a minyan.
After a successful fundraising trip, the Ponovezher Rav (Rav Kahaneman) zt'l told the students of Ponovezh yeshiva that he accredits his success to his caution to pray with a minyan. He said, "A wealthy person told me that the only time I could meet with him was early in the morning, at the train station. This wealthy person was taking the 8:30 a.m. train, and he asked me to meet him there fifteen minutes beforehand. “That morning I woke up late, at 7:00 a.m. (I don’t think I ever woke up so late before.) I realized that if I pray Shacharis with a minyan, I wouldn’t be on time for the meeting. I debated what to do. My first thought was to pray my myself, and to meet this wealthy person at the train station. After all, it was for a mitzvah, to support the yeshiva. But after thinking about it some more, I realized that I should pray with a minyan. To do otherwise, was just the yetzer hara. "It was very late when I finished Shacharis, but I decided to go to the train station, regardless.” The Ponovezher Rav continued, "Five minutes after I got to the train station that wealthy man arrived. He thought I waited for him almost an hour. He apologized effusively, and gave me a large check." The Ponovezher Rav waved the check in front of the bachurim. It was sufficient to support the yeshiva for a half a year. The Ponovezher Rav said, "The Midrash states, 'no one ever listened to Me, and lost out.' It’s obvious and simple that I wouldn’t lose money by being cautious to pray with a minyan. The reason I’m telling you this story is so you should know that in addition to not losing out, one also gains by being cautious with Torah and mitzvos, and with praying with a minyan. Imagine what would have happened had I prayed by myself and come on time to the meeting. After waiting for several minutes at the train station, and the wealthy person didn’t arrive, I would have left. I wouldn’t have waited for him for nearly an hour. But because I prayed with a minyan, I got this generous check.
Reb Shimshon of Ostripoli zt'l said, "There are three times that are mesugal for the tefillos to be answered: (1) when the aron kodesh is opened, [to take out the sefer Torah to read], (2) at hagbah, and (3) at birchas cohanim. One's requests at any of these times will definitely be answered." The Zohar tells us, "When the sefer Torah is taken out to be read, the gates of heaven — the gates of compassion — open. Love is aroused in heaven. As stated, when the Torah is raised for hagbaah, it is also an eis ratzon. The Seder HaYom writes, "When the Torah is raised for hagbah, everyone should look at the letters and bow — each person from his place — towards the sefer Torah, and each person should pray to Hashem according to his abilities… The third eis ratzon, mentioned by Reb Shimshon of Ostripoli, is at birchas cohanim. The Midrash says, "When Hakadosh Baruch Hu told Aharon and his children to bless the Jewish nation, the nation replied, 'Ribono shel Olam…we only want Your blessings. We want to be blessed from Your mouth…' "Hakadosh Baruch Hu replied, 'Although I told the cohanim to bless you, I will stand with them and bless you. The cohanim raise their hand, and Hakadosh Baruch Hu stands behind them…looking through their fingers, and says, 'I bless them.'" Similarly, the Yerushalmi states, "One shouldn’t say, this cohen is a sinner, a murderer; why should he bless us? Because Hakadosh Baruch Hu says, 'Who blesses you? I bless you. And let us realize that the blessings of the cohanim themselves are also magnificent. The Midrash Tanchumah writes, "[Hashem’s says] at first, I would bless My creation. From now on, I give it over to [the cohanim], that they should bless the Jewish people." Since Hashem appointed the cohanim to bless us, we can be certain that their blessings are extremely effective. But what's special about birchas cohanim isn't solely because of the wonderful blessings. It’s also an eis ratzon for tefillah. The Zohar (Naso 147) says, "At the time when the cohanim spread their hands to bless the nation… there is abundant mercy in the world. Whoever wants to pray for any issues that disturbs him, his prayers will be [effective and the prayers will] turn judgment into mercy." The Meiri (Brachos 55) explains that birchas cohanim is a special time for prayer because when the cohanim bless us, the entire congregation is listening with great kavanah and answer amen passionately. The congregation's increased kavanah makes this a special time for prayer. The Kaf HaChayim (128:270) writes (in the name of the Chida) that if the community has a problem, it is proper that the cohanim should raise their hands for birchas cohanim, and afterwards the congregation can prayer for their problems because nesiut kapayim arouses compassion.
The Arizal would say that during hagbah one should come up close and look at the letters until he is able to read them clearly. This will bring a great light onto him" (Shaar Hakavanos). Reb Shimon Shkop zt'l advised a bachur who suffered from depression to look at the sefer Torah at hagbah. He explained that the great light that he will receive by looking at the letters of the sefer Torah will banish his depression. According to most poskim, one should express his prayers after birkas cohanim, or when the cohanim are singing; but not while the cohanim are actually saying the blessings.
From the beginning of creation until the flood, Hashem would speak directly to mankind. When someone sinned, Hashem Himself would come to that person and rebuke him. But when the sin of adultery increased, Hashem distanced Himself from the world, and He doesn’t speak directly to people anymore. As the Or HaChaim (Bereishis 6:3) writes, "Hashem used to rebuke people openly, [as it states], 'Hashem said to the snake…'; 'To the woman, Hashem said…,'; 'To Adam, He said…,'; 'Hashem said to Kayin…'; Hashem spoke with Hevel…,' and so on. But when they increased their repulsive sins, Hashem said I will no longer rebuke people face to face. People are no longer fitting for that level…. [Because] at first, Hashem would rebuke people to their faces, and everyone was a navi. But when mankind became more profane, they lost the level of prophecy… This curse started with the generation of the Flood, and the reason was because they were sinning with the disgusting, smelly, sin of adultery. Hashem hates adultery, and it’s disgusting for Him to speak with people..."
Bilam knew that Hashem hates adultery, and therefore he told the Moabites, "The G-d of these hates adultery…" and he counseled Moav to cause the Jewish people to sin with adultery. Bilam's words can also be translated, "Hashem is the G-d of the people who hate adultery" because the Jewish people despise sins, and that is the reason Hashem loves us. Bilam advised the Moabites to lure the Jews to sin, to weaken that love, chalilah.
A father and a mother might permit themselves certain things, and claim that it doesn’t affect them. But they must remember that they have already matured and have become toughened. Their children, however, are still young and impressionable. What may be o.k. for them, may not be good for the kids. We mustn’t be cruel like the yaanah, who gives its fledglings what’s good for itself, but not good for its children.
Bein Hazmanim has been humorously compared to a hammock that’s tied between two trees. The trees are firm, but the hammock is unsteady and sways back and forth. Similarly, there is a zman of Torah before bein hazmanim, and a zman of Torah after, and in between things are wobbly. Things are shaky and uncertain; one needs special caution not to fall off.
When something out of the ordinary happens to the G-d fearing, they understand that Hashem is telling them how to proceed. If they're in the middle of doing something, and something unusual suddenly occurs, they realize that Hashem is telling them to stop. So when Bilam encountered something unusual —his donkey sat down on the road— which is something it never did before… Bilam should have thought a bit and realize that Hashem [is hinting to him that Hashem] wants that Bilam should return. Although Hashem had told Bilam that he could go, it was on condition (22:20) that he act according to Hashem's will [and if Hashem hints to him to return, he must do so]… This is the reason the angel rebuked him, 'Why did you hit your donkey?'" Similarly, the Rabbeinu b'Chaya (22:29) writes, "Bilam should have been shocked when he heard the donkey speaking…. He should have realized that it was from Hashem, to stop him from carrying out his plans. But because of his cruel and evil nature he passionately desired to go, and he didn’t think about what had just occurred. Bilam spoke with the donkey like someone talks with a friend…"
The Sefer Chassidim (153) writes, "When something should be self-understood, even if it’s not an explicit command, he is punished for not paying attention… We find this by Bilam… There is nothing wrong with hitting a donkey. It wasn't cruelty to animals since the donkey hadn’t collapsed under its load. When Bilam's foot was crushed against the wall, it was certainly permitted to hit the donkey. [So what did he do wrong?] He should have understood [from the troubles he was having] that Hakadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t want him to curse them…"
Hashem granted intelligence to mankind, and they should use it to understand what Hashem wants from them, what their mission in life is, and how to prevail over challenges. It isn’t always an excuse to say, “I didn’t know,” because if you try, often you can know.
Studying the sefer Or HaChaim is mesugal for blessings and salvations. Rebbe Pinchas of Koritz zt'l said that since the Or HaChaim didn’t have his own children, he placed his entire power of bearing children into the sefer Or HaChaim. So studying the sefer is mesugal for bearing children.