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A Woman’s Prayer

A Woman’s Prayer

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College was going to be the most exciting time in my life. It would be my first time living away from home. More importantly, I would make new friends, who would be friends for life because we’d be living the best years of our lives together. So, you can imagine my utter sadness when on the first day of school I got a horrible cold. As if a runny nose and ear infection weren’t enough to scare away all of my potential new friends, I also had a sore throat that made my voice do somersaults.

Then she did something unexpected . . .A few days later, my roommate, noticing how I was not recovering, suggested I see the school doctor. The doctor was friendly, and led me to the examination room, where she weighed me on the scale, asked me a bunch of questions, looked in my ear and down my throat, and prescribed me medication.

It was all very normal. But then, she did something unexpected: she asked if she could pray for me.

Taken aback, I said, “Sure.”

I gripped the exam table for support as I sat nervously on the edge of it. I watched as she clasped her hands together, looked up at the sky and said a very heartfelt prayer for me to get better and to have a good school year.

On the one hand, I felt extremely awkward watching her pray for me, in front of me, for something so minor. This was not the usual procedure!

On the other hand, I thought, a prayer could never hurt anyone. How thoughtful of this doctor to pray for me. How nice. In fact, that may have been the nicest thing a stranger had ever done for me.

That doctor became my inspiration to pray. No matter how large or small our problems are, I learned, we should pray—and not just for ourselves, but for others too. Her prayers were soon answered, I got better, I made lots of friends, and I was so happy in school. Although I, thankfully, never had to go to the nurse’s office again, this one moment greatly impacted me, and I never forgot it.

Yet it wasn’t until a few years later that I learned how to connect to the formal Jewish prayers. Staying over at a friend’s house for Shabbat, I was completely embarrassed when she handed me a prayerbook and went off to say her morning blessings. I sat on the sofa, pretending to read the Hebrew words like a pro. But I couldn’t fool my friend.

“Want to say one together?” she asked.

I was completely embarrassed when she handed me a prayerbookI was so relieved I didn’t have to sound out those long Hebrew words myself. We did a series of 15 blessings, thanking G‑d for actions related to waking up in the morning. She said each word slowly first, and then I repeated it after her, like an illiterate actor learning her lines. Yet, because the prayer has so much repetition, I started to catch on, and that made me feel empowered. I actually liked saying this prayer.

It became a sort of tradition to say these blessings together when we had our sleepovers. Soon I knew most of them by heart, and didn’t need her help. My success with this prayer made me want to learn the other ones. Soon, I was saying the morning blessings on my own.

I used to think that Jewish prayer was something done in the synagogue, in Hebrew, that it had nothing to do with my life, and that it was incredibly boring. Yet through the years, I have learned that I was mistaken. Prayer is meant to be done everywhere, and to be said for even the smallest wish. It can be informal and spontaneous too. Talking to G‑d is something everyone can do, and should do daily.

It is also good to formally pray from the prayerbook. We don’t even have to say it in Hebrew. G‑d knows every language. Speaking in Hebrew is a plus, because then you can pray with any Jew anywhere in the world—and since Hebrew is a holy language, there are many hidden meanings in the liturgy. Our sages wrote these prayers to help us know what to say to G‑d, and to maximize our potential for our prayers to be answered.

What really changed my feelings about prayer is learning that the real reason we pray is to develop a relationship with the Almighty. We are not supposed to pray just when we want something in life. To do so would be to miss the point.

Are we listening? Do we respond?The root of the Hebrew word for prayer, tefillah, means “to connect.” We are like G‑d’s children. He wants to give us things, and of course it’s okay to ask; but if that’s the extent of our relationship with Him, then that’s a problem. A good relationship requires quality time and effort in order to get to know someone well. The point of prayer is to remind us that G‑d is involved in our lives. Every second, though what we call “nature,” He is communicating with us. Are we listening? Do we respond?

A relationship is only as strong as the one who wants it least. Since we are humans, we can’t possibly want a relationship with G‑d as much as He wants it with us, but we can do our best and try. The goal in the end is to be so intimate with G‑d that our will matches His.

Perhaps that is why the masters of prayer in Judaism are not men but women. Unlike men, women don’t need to put on anything external when praying, or even to pray at a certain time. Women have a natural connection to prayer and spirituality. Women are relationship beings, and because of this, it is the women who are paradigms of how to pray—and, furthermore, how to get our prayers answered.

Hannah is one example. In fact, interestingly enough, the root of her name is derived from the Hebrew word chen, meaning “grace.” For many years she wanted children, but could not conceive. Every year she would go to the Tabernacle and pray for a child. As she prayed, she cried and she moved her lips silently. She stood alone in front of G‑d, not needing anyone to talk to Him for her. The prayer was so heartfelt that the high priest accused her of being drunk. Yet, when she explained herself, and he realized the intensity and authenticity of her prayer, he blessed her.

Through her prayers, Hannah became the mother of the great prophet Samuel. Furthermore, the laws of the Amidah, one of the most important Jewish prayers, are derived from her example.

I learned the connection between our prayers and our actionsThe matriarch Rachel is another example of the power of a woman’s prayer. During the Babylonian exile, the Jewish people cried out in anguish, and their prayers were heard by their ancestors, who decided to intercede on their behalf. All the patriarchs, matriarchs, and Moses asked G‑d to end the exile and allow the Jewish people to return to Israel. The only prayers G‑d listened to were Rachel’s.

Since Rachel had compassion for her sister Leah during her lifetime, allowing Leah to marry the man Rachel loved in order so that Leah would not be embarrassed, G‑d said that He also must be compassionate with the Jewish people. Because G‑d answers Rachel’s prayers with compassion, many people go to Rachel’s tomb to pray, so that she will intercede with G‑d on their behalf.

From Rachel, I learned the connection between our prayers and our actions. If we act in the way we want G‑d to act, then when we pray for what we need, G‑d will treat us the way we treated others. Our merits are reflected in our answered prayers.

It is said that women took nine measures of speech out of ten. This means that, when it comes to prayer, women have tremendous power. G‑d wants our hearts; He wants a connection. As women, we can identify with that feeling, because that is what makes us tick.

Through the examples of the women I’ve met and studied, I too have learned to pray better and harder, and to understand why I’m doing it. Prayer helps me to remember to be grateful, and to define what I want and why. But, most importantly, it reminds me that I’m never alone. And that reminder is a blessing indeed.

Samantha Barnett is a writer. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
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Anonymous Brooklyn NY October 4, 2015

Being connected to our creator is a very important thing sometimes people forget. I have been lost and almost forgot even how to pray for the past 5 years give or take. I am 17 years old now and feel like I've lived and experienced a lot in a short amount of time. I know I have God willing a long life ahead of me to live a fulfilled and spiritual life. Sometimes it's hard to have faith when bad things are happening around us. But God is and has shown me that there is hope and there always will be. Reply

Julie King Salina February 3, 2014

great article and comments. thank you Reply

Anonymous Jersey City, NJ October 19, 2012

womens prayer as a woman of 54 ( with two wonderful adult children Baruch HaShem, Thank G-d) and on my own ( Ive been divorced since 1990), I am now rediscovering all aspect of living Jewish almost as a child again. The one thing I never wavered from was my faith in G-D and prayer. I was sick, I am getting better. I lived far away from my kids in a non-Jewish neighborhood - and even though I am still sick G-D answered each prayer, in His time not mine- but each one brought me closer to my living daily as a Jew. I volunteer, I have as of this Sahbbat stopped wearing pants and returned to modest ( and still yet attractive ) dresses and skirts, and it is though my dear friend that I have a prayerbook that I use daily and attend services each week. I am now closer in distance to my eldest child, and my youngest who will be married this spring G-D willing to a kind and loving nonJewish young man- who agreed with my daughter that their children will be raised Jewish. All of these were prayers answered, Baruch HaShem Reply

Sheree brown seattle, wa October 10, 2012

prayer thanks so much for writing this article. I had been struggling with anger for so long and never knew what to pray for to rid myself for anger i have no clue as to where it came from but the piece in you're about our matriarch Rachel and how G-d answered her prayers because she had so much compassion for her sister so much that she allowed her sister to marry the man she loved i knew than what i had to pray for not to ask to be rid of the anger but for the anger to be used for G-d how i didn't know until i read on. and it was clear to me that my anger be turned into compassion for other. i had been battling with anger for so love that i be gained to believe that i was never going to get away from anger the crazy thing about it all is when i love i love hard and am very compassion toward people i care about others but anger never allowed me to fully express that love so thank you very much. this reading has saved my life in so many ways many blessings to you... Reply

Anonymous honolulu, hawaii March 20, 2012

prayer thank you for the reminder of the importance of prayer...i am sick now and a friend said that he would pray for me tonight. It gave me a sense of relief and good feelings to know that someone cares Reply

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