“Rabbi, when did you start praying?” It was a simple question, asked by a simple person who works a simple program. But I don't know how to be simple, my training is in the complex. Give me something simple to explain and I will mix it up as best as I can. So here is how I answered:

I can say that I started praying (at least) three times in my life, and that each instance evolved from the previous experience. The three types of prayer I would like to share about are Technical Prayer, Intellectual Prayer, and Emotional Prayer.

Technical Prayer is when I read the words printed in my prayer book, or recite the blessings that I memorized. I don't under-stand what I'm saying, and I don't even have a purpose to my prayer. I just say it. I say it because I was told to. I say it because my parents say it. I say it because I want to eat, and I don't put food in my mouth until I pray. That is what I call Technical Prayer. As unspiritual as it sounds, it serves a very important purpose. The purpose is humility and surrender. It's not about me. It can't be about me, because I don't understand it, and because I don't think about what it really says. As childish as it sounds, it’s as pure as it sounds. Our great sages, who achieved the highest levels of prayer, wished they could revert back to praying like a child. I have been trained to do so since my youngest age. I said blessings and prayers before I knew how to talk...

Then I grew up. Technical Prayer was not sufficient any more; I had to upgrade. I upgraded to Intellectual Prayer. I was around 13 years old, and I had just started studying Jewish Mysticism, also known as Chassidus. I bought a special prayer book, with translations, and annotations. I started to study the literal meaning of prayer and the intricacies of its order. Intellectually, I started to understand what I was saying, and why I was saying it. When I prayed, I paid more attention to the words that came out of my mouth. I made sure that they matched the thoughts in my head. Prayer now began to have meaning.

Again, I found that Intellectual Prayer is also not enough. The intellectual meaning of prayer is a great tool for spiritual growth. But as far as a relationship with G‑d is concerned, it is similar to what someone else with comparable intellectual capacities can achieve. Where is my personal connection with G‑d? That is where I need Emotional Prayer.

When I pray emotionally, the words that I say and their meaning take a back seat to what I feel. I use the written words in my book to express the emotions etched in my heart. I read with my lips, and I cry from my soul. I find the part in me that I'm willing to give to G‑d today, and I ask G‑d to accept it from me. I invite G‑d to be part of who I am; I ask him to help me be all I can be.

It doesn't get any more personal than that. It doesn't get any more emotional than that.