There is a story told of a man in a concentration camp that scrounged a small piece of butter from the kitchen in an effort to satiate himself with a few more calories. He was about to spread the little sliver of butter on a slice of bread and split it with his son when another emaciated Jew—looking like he was on the brink of starvation—came begging for that bit of butter. Without hesitation, the man handed it over. When his son protested, he reassured him: “My son, don’t worry. We can live three days without food. But we cannot live even one day without meaning.”

What is the deepest need of a person? To have a meaningful life. To accomplish what we were put on this earth to accomplish. What is our mission? To fill this world with G‑dly light and make this world a fitting home for G‑d.

So if you have a chance to ask G‑d for your needs, since prayer is about asking G‑d for your needs, then it means that prayer is asking G‑d to help you accomplish your mission on earth.

While this all sounds so lofty, our requests during the Amidah prayers are asking G‑d for down-to-earth things, like healing the sick and providing us with ample sustenance. If our deepest need is to have meaning and draw down G‑d’s light, why do we ask for physical needs?

But that is exactly it. G‑dly light is spiritual, and it needs physical vessels to be drawn into.

Remember the metaphor of prayer being like the spinal cord? The sages extend the metaphor by explaining that the spinal cord sends nerve signals from the brain to the vertebrae, from which it extends to the rest of the body, and the vertebrae are actually a container for the spinal cord.

Similarly, prayer is like a spiritual spinal cord drawing G‑dly light from G‑d’s essence, and it needs a spiritual container. The spiritual containers are the blessings of the Amidah. The various requests in the Amidah are different variations of drawing down G‑d’s unlimited light into this world. The G‑dly light is expressed in physical things, like health, livelihood and all our physical needs. Just like the vertebrae are vessels to receive nervous signals from the spinal cord, the blessings of the Amidah are vessels to receive G‑d’s great light.

(If you are a numbers person: The Amidah is also called shemoneh esrei, which literally means “18” since it originally consisted of 18 blessings. This parallels the 18 vertebrae that support our body: the 12 thoracic vertebrae, plus the five lumbar vertebrae, plus the sacrum. The cervical vertebrae are not part of this count.)

While there are a number of individual requests to draw G‑dly light into specific aspects of our lives, the general underlying intention of prayer is to request that Or Ein Sof, this great spiritual light, should be drawn down into this physical world. In fact, we repeat the word baruch, which means “to draw down,” many times in the Amidah.

What are we attempting to draw down? Atah—“You,” G‑d’s essence and great light. Into where? Into this physical world.

And that is truly our deepest need.

Soul Note: While you focus on your personal needs during prayer, keep in mind the deeper need to reveal G‑d's holy light within the physical parameters.

Source: The Maamar, Lo Hibit Avon Biyakov in Likkutei Torah, as explained in Chassidut Mevueret, Chapter 2.