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7 Questions Everyone Asks About Jewish Prayer

7 Questions Everyone Asks About Jewish Prayer

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To learn why we pray, and how to make prayer a meaningful time to connect with G‑d, join “The Heart of Prayer,” a four-part series sure to deepen your appreciation of Jewish prayer.

1. Question: I feel like a phony saying the prayers when I don’t know if I believe in them. How can I say that part about the obligation to “love G‑d with all your heart” when I don’t feel that way?

Answer: What if, just at that moment, your spouse asks: “Do you love me?” You are upset about something and don’t feel very in love at the moment. Would it be a lie to tell her that you love her at such a time? Should you rather be honest and say, “Darling, right now, I’m not sure I do”? Of course not! You should tell her confidently: “Of course, I love you!” (And she’ll say, “I know, I just had to hear it.”) Because you do love her. It is just that the love is not manifest in your heart at that very moment.

The same applies to our relationship with G‑d. Our soul loves G‑d already because our soul is a part of Him. But we often don’t feel that love manifested in our hearts. So saying you love G‑d is just acknowledging the innate love that’s rooted in the G‑dly you.

Read more: I Feel Like a Hypocrite

2. Question: Does G‑d have such an ego problem that He demands His creations to constantly pray to Him, telling Him how great He is?

Answer: Every time you give your child anything, like a piece of chicken, drink or a toy to play with, you insist that he/she say thank you. Are you so insecure that you need constant acknowledgement? No! You are being an exemplary parent, teaching your children gratitude and humility. Your request to be thanked was not for yourself, it was for your child.

G‑d trains us to thank Him. He doesn’t need our thanks as much as we need to thank Him. Because everything we have, including life itself, is a gift. The minute we forget that, the minute we take even the simplest pleasures for granted, we stop living a life of wonder.

Read more: Is G‑d Needy?

3. Question: I’m a bit confused about the idea of praying to G‑d to help us in a certain situation or provide us with something. He knows what is best. So why should a person pray for the situation to change?

Answer: Think of it like this: G‑d wants people to pray to Him. It’s like a parent wanting a child to pick up the phone and say, “Hi, Mom and Dad. How are you?” More than that, He wants things to progress in His world through mutual consultation. He wants that we should be involved in understanding what’s good for us and bringing it about—no matter how much better His own understanding and ability is than our understanding and ability. That’s what prayer is all about: communion between you and G‑d. Think of prayer as G‑d talking to Himself—through you.

In prayer, you and G‑d are one. Also, when you pray to G‑d for your needs, you create a receptacle to receive His blessings for what you need.

Read more: If G‑d Knows Best, What’s the Point of Prayer?

4. Question: Why do we pray in Hebrew at synagogue? I don’t understand a word. Should I fumble with the Hebrew I don’t understand or focus on the English?

Answer: Hebrew is the language of choice for prayers. For one, the prayers were written in Hebrew. As the saying goes, “there is no such thing as an accurate translation.” Even the best translation cannot convey the entire intent of the original. Also, Hebrew is called the “Holy Tongue.” According to Nachmanides, its specialness is expressed in the fact that it is G‑d’s language of choice for revealing Himself to the prophets.

But prayer also requires understanding. So if you understand the meaning of the words you are saying, pray in Hebrew. If you don’t, pray in the language you do understand—until you learn Hebrew.

Read more: Must I Pray in Hebrew?

5. Question: I pray to an Infinite Being I cannot see, hear, touch, fathom or even shake hands with. And I’m supposed to relate to this Being with all my heart?

Answer: We think our reality is the “real” reality. But the opposite is true. G‑d is all that’s real. To pray demands that you first step out of your highly limited context into a much greater reality.

Try this meditation: Imagine that you’re in a cramped hotel room in Manhattan. Sirens are heard in the distance. Your best friend lies on the floor before you, gasping her last breaths. Your knees shiver as you kneel to hold her cold, limp hand. You have words to say, but they just can’t come out. You pause. Then you stand up and yell: “Cut the lights!” At which point, an entire reality dissolves. You turn to the director. “Look, I really respect you as a director, and I know it’s your script, but these lines, this whole scene—it’s really not working.”

A real actor is capable of living two realities at once. He’s totally invested in his part in this story. At the same time, he remembers that he is an actor, and this is a story. In our world, there’s a Director. You need to play your part as best you can. But at the same time, you need to be ready to step out of that story at any time into a much wider context, into the realm of the Grand Director, and from there see things as they really are. If you’re playing your part in a movie, the director/producer is not a character in the scene. Yet, he is in every part of it. G‑d is our Director and our lives are real, but there is a greater context beyond our limited view. G‑d’s view requires us to cut the lights and see the bigger picture. See it from the directors view.

Read more: How Can I Pray to a G‑d I Cannot See?

6. Question: I am going through a very rough time. I stay home most of the time praying to G‑d, but nothing changes. The more I pray, the angrier I get. Should I stop praying so at least I won’t be so angry at G‑d?

Answer: Some believe that one prays to G‑d, asking for what you need and want, and that’s it. They feel that prayer and faith in G‑d should magically bring changes and blessings. However, the truth is that we need to be like the faithful farmer: He prays to G‑d for success, and then, full of faith that he’ll succeed, he goes and plows the field. G‑d created this world for us to work in and be creative in. Yes, this is difficult, and remaining at home can be much easier, but that’s not what G‑d wants from us.

We need to make a receptacle in which to receive blessing. In addition to creating a physical receptacle, we also need to create a spiritual receptacle. We can do that by adding to our Jewish observance. Through these channels, G‑d bestows His blessings on us. Ultimately, though, we must remember that just because we prayed for something doesn’t guarantee that end result. G‑d might just have other plans.

Read more: Why Isn’t G‑d Responding to My Prayers?

7. Question: Why do many people sway while praying?

Answer: “The soul of man is a candle of G‑d” (Proverbs 20:27). The candle’s flame constantly sways and flickers as it attempts to tear free of its wick and ascend on high. Our soul is also engaged in a constant effort to escape the corporeality of this mundane world and cleave to its G‑dly source. This is especially true in the course of prayer—those islands in time when we concentrate and focus on our relationship with G‑d.

Our body mirrors this effort as it sways back and forth like a flame.

Read more: Why Do Jews Sway While Praying?

Enroll in “The Heart of Prayer” Today!

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Gail DiFate. Mattawan,MI January 18, 2018

I would like to join this group. Reply

Chabad.org Staff January 21, 2018
in response to Gail DiFate. :

Excellent! Feel free to sign up for the class at chabad.org/heartofprayer Reply

Frank Sterling, MA January 18, 2018

Thank you I am having trouble learning how to pray. This article is helping me in my time of sorrows Reply

Claud Ener Pasadena, Texas January 18, 2018
in response to Frank:

Frank, you should pray to God just like you are talking to a friend, or anyone. No need for all the thous. and other Biblical sayings. God knows what you are saying. Reply

FRANK STERLING MA January 21, 2018
in response to Claud Ener:

Thank you Claud, that's what I try to do but sometimes it comes out as shallow or I'm whiny it's humbling to try to speak to God after not trying to talk to him for so many years. This article helps. Thanks to the Rabbi who presented it Reply

Cheryl January 18, 2018

Spontaneous praying is wonderful, talking to God is the ultimate experience in my life, I discovered the depth of prayer 2014 when I read an article about Revitalizing prayer! Reply

Rita Philadelphia January 17, 2018

This is just beautiful. Thank you so much. Reply

Rick Abrams Beverly Hills January 17, 2018

Oh, and I thought it was because my back ached. Reply

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