From the book, To Pray as a Jew (or anyone else)
By Rabbi Hayin Halevy Donin
Even among those who join synagogues, only as a small percentage pray daily. They are somehow beyond that stage — needing to pray daily or even weekly.
Those who do not worship regularly claim their reason for affiliating with a synagogue is to identify with the Jewish people and the Jewish community and perhaps, even with the Jewish faith but, not for the purpose of prayer.
Some consider the spiritual arrogance of contemporary man to be a stumbling block to prayer. Since prayer requires the capacity to be in awe and feel thankful, the immodest and arrogant personality simply cannot pray because he has no sense of awe or gratitude. He puts too much faith in his own ability to do wonders and ascribes all achievements to his own powers. He lacks the necessary measure of humility.
While this may be true for some individuals, it is perhaps skepticisms and doubt that make it difficult for other people to engage God in conversation. It is not that they are atheists or even agnostic. It is simpIy that they waver between faith and doubt.
Even of Noah, who is described in the Bible as a “righteous man” who “walked with God,” it is said that ‘he believed and did not believe,” for he lacked the faith to move immediately into the ark that he was commanded to build and did not move into the very last moment.
Our generation, too, often appears to be precariously balanced between believing and not believing, sometimes leaning in one direction, sometimes in the other.
Or perhaps the reason for the unfashionably of prayer is simply that most people dan’t know how to pray. They were never properly taught. Yet prayer is more commonplace than most people realize if we do not think of it as taking place only within a structured religious service and only through the medium of prescribed and sanctioned words.
“Dear God make her well” is as simple and classic a prayer as there can be. Moses said in his prayer for his sister Miriam when she was stricken with leprosy. In one form or another this prayer is recited by countless mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, children, friends, and lovers.
Or, consider the sigh of relief, “Thank God” that comes after going through a period of intense anxiety in the wake of a serious accident or a dangerous illness or a fateful mission or when loved ones seem suspended between life and death or between success and ruin. This, too, is a prayer and is just as likeIy to be said by people who think that they never pray as by those who pray with deliberate and conscious regularity.
Or, consider the feeling of awe and admiration that wells up in one’s heart when coming upon great natural scenes — vast oceans, breath-taking mountains, stunning deserts.
King David summed it up saying, “Oh Thy works Lord, how great are Thy works!” Is this not a prayer, even though it may come out simply as “Magnificent!” by those with less poetic talent than the author of the Book of Psalms! But if they believe these phenomena to be God’s handiwork and mean to praise Him, then this word, too, constitutes a prayer.
Or consider the person who has qualms of conscience about some wrong-doing and in the privacy of his own thoughts says,”How truly sorry I am!” This, too, is a a prayer, especialIy if the words “forgive me” are added.
These examples are universal; they are also the four types of prayer that make up the content of the siddur (Hebrew prayer book). The prayer of petition which people most people think of as the nature and purpose of all prayer, is just one of four types of prayer.
The other three types of prayer consist of thanksgiving,v of praise of God, and of that are basically self-searching and confessional.
The Hebrew word for “to pray” does not mean or “to ask” or “to petition” It means for God to judge.
Here lies a clue for the real purpose for engaging in prayer. Whether we petition God to give us what we need, or thank Him for whatever good was granted, or extol him for his awesome attribute, all prayer is intended to help make us into better human beings.
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