Prayer involves two diametrically opposed emotions: joy and happiness on the one hand, a crushed heart on the other. There are two diametrically opposed verses, each one of which purports to tell us how to serve G‑d by prayer. In Psalms (100:2) we are told: "Serve the Lord in joy," whereas in Psalms (2:11) we are told: "Serve G‑d in trepidation!" The plain meaning of the verses in question is that they apply to prayer which is called "service of the heart."

Our sages have said that while praying, we must direct our heart toward Heaven and our eyes towards Earth: Our downcast eyes to remind us of our smallness, our insignificance before G‑d the Exalted. Our uplifted heart will induce fear and trepidation so that we may serve G‑d out of true reverence. Once we have attained this level of reverence our heart will contemplate what is above us and thus will be full of joy that we have been found fit to serve such a Master. We note that both emotions are an integral part of prayer.

There are still other mystical aspects to this issue regarding prayer, for there exists a problem of all the forces that interpose themselves between us and Heaven, trying to prevent our prayers from reaching there. The sages who formulated the sequence of our daily prayers arranged for us to recite the "Verses of Song" (Pesukei Dezimra) so that we may cut a path through these forces impeding our prayers. This is why someone who engages in conversation between the recital of the beginning of the "Verses of Song" and its conclusion undermines the purpose of the recital of these hymns; as a result, the major part of our prayers will not be able to proceed heavenwards for the "Verses of Song" should have been engaged in deflecting the kelipot, spiritual barriers, which try to prevent our prayers from "breaking through". The Zohar describes these hostile forces as two groups which are called two harlots…

The Zohar describes these hostile forces as two groups which are called two harlots: one which is called Machal--, whereas the other is called Lil--. Machal— controls 478 groups corresponding to the numerical value of its name, whereas Lil— has 480 such groups at her command, again corresponding to the numerical value of her Hebrew name. These hostile groups fill up the entire atmosphere between them. Details of this concept have been explained in a book called Kol Bochim in its reference to Lamentations: (5:11) "They have ravished women in Zion." [According to the interpretation now offered, the translation should be: "women have ravished Zion." Ed.]

Clearly, even during the period of the destruction of the Holy Temple, there must have been numerous Torah scholars and pious people who tried to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people by means of their prayers. The reason their prayers did not reach Heaven was the presence of these two "women" [i.e. demonesses] referred to in Lamentations, who "violated", or "held up" and "delayed" these prayers from reaching their destination. Machal— and Lil— are constantly at war…for they represent opposing forces…

By doing this, the prediction referred to in Lamentation 3:8, "He [G‑d] shut out my prayer", was fulfilled. The author of Kol Bochim explains that normally Machal— and Lil— are constantly at war with one another for they represent opposing forces. Machal--, as implied by her name, represents dances, joy and happiness. All the happy-go-lucky scoffers who consider life one single long row of sensual pleasures derive their impetus from that "woman".

Lil--, on the other hand, also true to her name, represents melancholy, despair and the heretical views portrayed in the early chapters of Ecclesiastes that all life is a futile, heart-breaking experience. As a result, these two "women" are in constant conflict with one another. This conflict benefits the prayers of Israel. As long as these two forces are engaged in feuding with each other they do not have the energy to concern themselves overly with the prayers of Israel and with their desire to interfere with these prayers. Our prayers can ascend to Heaven without undue interference. At the time of the destruction of the Holy Temple, however, they made a truce and thus shut out the prayers of Israel.

When Joshua was about to conquer the land of Israel, he sent out two spies who, due to their lofty spiritual level, overcame and humbled the two "harlots" mentioned by the Zohar. Once the Holy Temple was built in the days of King Solomon, when the fortunes of the Jewish people were at their peak, these two "harlots" were defeated absolutely, and this is one of the reasons Solomon is described as sitting "on the throne of G~d" (Chronicles I 29:23). This is the mystical dimension of the two harlots, who approached him, each claiming that the surviving baby was hers (Kings I 3:16-27). The above is all based on the Zohar, and elaborated on in Kol Bochim. We have to demonstrate to Machal— the joyful aspects of Judaism…

I have found an allusion along these lines in the portion dealing with expansionary wars in Deut. (20:1-9), participation in which is restricted to certain categories of people outlined there. It is clear that the paragraph speaks about a permissible expansionary kind of war, as distinct from the obligatory was against the seven Canaanite nations in which no potential soldier of military age was exempt. In connection with this obligatory war, the Torah writes: "you must not allow any soul to survive." (Deut. 20:16) Quite intriguing is the sequence of the paragraphs dealing with the capture of a physically attractive woman prisoner, (Deut. 21:11) followed by the paragraph of a man who has two wives and wishes to appoint the first-born of his more beloved wife as his principal heir, though the son in question is junior to another son from this first wife whom he grew to hate in the meantime. (Deut. 21:15)

The two wives which the Torah describes as, "the one loved, the other hated", may be understood as referring to the "harlots" mentioned in the Zohar. The loved one refers to Machal--, the happy and beautiful one. The hated one refers to Lil--, the melancholy one. When the Torah speaks about a beautiful woman whom you see in captivity, this is a woman captured during a permissible expansionary war in one of the surrounding countries where the kelipot are permanently at home. The duty to subjugate these kelipot is part of the injunction to do good. This has to be done in one of two ways: In order to defeat and humble Lil--, harsh measures are required; prayer opposing Lil— must originate from a crushed heart and must be accompanied by tears.Lil— can only be rehabilitated in this way. In order to be successful in subjugating and rehabilitating Machal--, the happy-go-lucky one of these two harlots, we must handle the situation differently.

We have to demonstrate to Machal— the joyful aspects of Judaism, i.e. the Shabbat days, the holidays, the joy experienced in helping the less fortunate, etc., as well as to convey some of our knowledge about the goodness and grandeur of G‑d. The Talmud teaches that all the gates are sometimes closed except the gates of tears…

As long as we are exiled from our homeland all our joy on holidays is subdued due to the kelipot surrounding us on all sides. It is extremely difficult to totally defeat the kelipot of Machal— in such circumstances.

When the Torah refers to the beautiful woman prisoner as "and you saw a beautiful woman in captivity," this is to tell us that under conditions of exile, i.e. captivity, the kelipa of Machal— continues to exist. We have only succeeded in eliminating the kelipa of Lil--. When the Talmud teaches that all the gates are sometimes closed except the gates of tears, this is a hint that at least the kelipat Lil— can be overcome at all times.

To sum up: We are to serve the Lord with joy to help us eliminate Machal--, and we are to serve the Lord with fear, awe, and tears, to help us eliminate Lil--. The application of joy in prayer is the knowledge and use of the names of G‑d…

The application of joy in prayer is the knowledge and use of the names of G‑d in the proper manner. This makes such a deep impression in the Celestial Regions that it creates a "crown" for the "head" of G‑d Himself. It contributes to the unification of His Name in those regions. This is the reason that G‑d is perceived of as desiring the prayers of the righteous, since the service of G‑d by means of prayer is a need G‑d feels, as we have mentioned on numerous occasions.

The above is true only when the prayers are offered up in the Holy Land, a region from which the prayers ascend even higher, something that cannot occur in the Diaspora which the kelipot dominate and interfere. Prayers offered outside of the Land of Israel are as if dressed in the air of impurity, and it would be presumptuous to say that G‑d longs for such prayers. Even outside of the Land of Israel however, the gates of tears subdue the forces of Lil— so that prayers offered in such circumstances are acceptable to G‑d. The main difference between such prayers and identical prayers offered within the boundaries of the Land of Israel is that the latter are something G‑d has expressly desired.

[Translation and commentary by Eliyahu Munk]