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Introduction to Prayer

Introduction to Prayer

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Tefilah (prayer) is an essential constituent of religion.

It is for the soul what food is for the body.

As fire flickers upwards, drawn to its supernal source, so does prayer issue forth - the Divine within man drawn to the Divine beyond. It is hard, if not impossible, to conceive of faith in G‑d without some concept of tefilah.

The act of prayer and the belief in a personal G‑d, in Divine Providence, are interdependent principles.

The religious person senses this in times of plenty, when he wishes to express gratitude, or in times of need, when he needs comfort, by communing with his Maker and Sustainer. In times like the months of Elul and, periods of Heavenly and personal examination and judgment, when vital decisions about our immediate future are in the balance, we turn to G‑d with more fervent prayers than usual.

For in a most serene part of the High Holidays' liturgy we are reminded that prayer is one of the means by which we can avert the undesired, the trials and troubles that often plague us.

Thus we confront a most unusual and wonderful aspect of prayer: to avert, escape, and even change, unfavorable decrees.

This power, however, as well as the positive aspect of prayer to elicit the Heavenly blessings for our well-being, appear quite mystical on the one hand, and rather contradictory on the other. Several serious questions arise when considering this nature of prayer.

First and foremost, we understand prayer to be the act of a finite creature. Heavenly blessings and decrees, however, are from the independent Creator. How, then, can an act of man, completely dependent for everything on G‑d, influence, as it were, and actuate, G‑d, who is Absolute?

How can the Infinite be made, as it were, to change His own decrees, because of the words and deeds of a finite being which "He made and formed, He animates and sustains"?

These are valid questions that will and ought to be asked by every thinking person. They ought to be asked, so that the search for answers will lead to a more profound understanding of the vital aspects upon which they touch. But this search must begin with some general premises and definitions of prayer.

NOTE: Footnotes were omitted from the web version, please refer to print version for extensive footnotes.
Published and copyright by Kehot Publication Society, all rights reserved.
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