We pray because our body requires nourishment, health, safety, comfort. We pray to acknowledge our dependency upon, our appreciation of, and our gratitude to the Source of all the needs, joys and achievements of life.

We pray because our soul is lonely. A spark of the Divine fire, it has journeyed to a world heavy and dark with "matter" — with things, forces and objects that shout forth their own reality, obfuscating their Source. So the spark yearns for the fire and strives to become reabsorbed in it. Eagerly it awaits the times set aside for prayer — those precious daily moments when the person it inhabits ceases to commune with the world and communes with his or her Creator.

So a person praying is a standing paradox, a swaying contradiction, a self divided against itself. Both body and soul are praying. The body is praying for life and existence. The soul is praying to escape life, to transcend existence.

And yet, as prayer progresses, a certain harmony emerges. As the soul prays, climbing the heavens and shedding the husks of selfhood that encumber it with an identity with "needs" and hold it distinct from its source, the body (who's praying on the same page — there's no escaping that) learns that spirituality, too, is a need; that transcendent strivings are also a pleasure; that union with G‑d is also an achievement. And the soul, who's praying on the same page as the body (there's no escaping that, either) learns that life, too, is Divine; that existence is also a way of fusing with G‑d; that achievement can be the ultimate self-abnegation, if one's achievements are harnessed to a higher, G‑dly end.

Why do we pray? Because the body needs the soul and the soul needs the body, and both need to be made aware that the other's need is also their own.

That, ultimately is the essence of prayer: to know our needs, understand their source, comprehend their true objectives. To direct our minds and hearts to He who implanted them within us, defined their purpose, and provides us with the means to fulfill them.