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What does the word tefillah mean? In our sedra (48:11) we are given a major clue. Yaakov tells Yosef that in all these years 'I have not seen your face' - and he uses the word 'filalta,' which has its roots in the word Tefillah. So what does filalta mean? The Netziv writes that it means when one makes a special effort to achieve something (a real hishtadlus). Thus, Yaakov was saying to Yosef that 'in all these years that I thought you were dead, I did not even make a real attempt to see you (for I thought you were gone).'

This reveals to us a bit about what Tefllah means. One aspect of Tefillah is that a real attempt (hishtadlus) to ask things from HaShem. Indeed, if one praises HaShem but does not then ask something of Him then one can be considered to have sinned. Tefillah is a form of histadlus, as the Chazon Ish said. Apart from its innate ability to create a relationship of closeness to HaShem, Tefillah is a way of making a real effort to achieve something and 'get what you want from HaShem.' And nothing is too small for Him to provide - you just need to ask.