ENCOUNTER WITH G-D
Prayer is introduced in the Torah on many occasions, beginning with Adam, who finds himself standing on a barren earth and understands that Hashem is awaiting his prayer before sending the first rains. Adam beseeches Hashem, and the earth instantly produces a beautiful green landscape.
Prayer is introduced in the Torah on many occasions, beginning with Adam, who finds himself standing on a barren earth and understands that Hashem is awaiting his prayer before sending the first rains. Adam beseeches Hashem, and the earth instantly produces a beautiful green landscape. Prayer is further refined by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are identified as being the people who established the morning, afternoon, and evening prayer services, respectively. It is interesting to note that the Matriarchs were barren, like the pristine earth, and required prayer in order to have children. The reason given is that Hashem desires the prayers of the tzadikim (righteous ones). Prayer is the defining feature of a Jew, "and I am my prayer," says King David (Psalms 69:14). Hashem is "seated on a throne composed of the praises of Israel" (ibid. 22:4).
Prayer is a dialogue between finite man reaching for his infinite Creator. The reaching out is triggered by our being created with a host of needs and by being confronted with situations of crisis. These situations are also the handiwork of Hashem, who knows how to best draw out and forge the raw human material into its finest and fullest form. Growth in prayer occurs when Man probes the depths of his soul and identifies personal needs and objectives. In the process, he also develops sensitivity to the needs of others, since prayer originates internally, but is expressed in terms of the needs of the community. By design of the sages, one's personal petitions are appended to the prayer for the many.
The hallmark of prayer, the silent Shemoneh Esrei, contains a series of requests which may appear like a personal shopping list. The sages tell us that in truth, these prayers deal with the highest levels of creation and existence (Talmud Tractate Berachot 6b). This silent prayer, composed by the Men of the Great Assembly, is saturated with the deepest of insights into the mysteries of creation. In his classic early 19th century work, Nefesh HaChaim, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin explains that these prayers are multidimensional, containing hidden references pertaining to a spiritual world whose details and concepts transcend our common understanding.
Accordingly, the prayers of the Shemoneh Esrei not only concern individual and communal problems of the Jewish people; they relate to the pain and suffering of the Shechinah (Hashem's Divine presence) in exile. He maintains that the prime focus of the saintly individual in prayer is the diminished appreciation of Hashem's true greatness that we have in this time period, known as hester panim (the hidden face of Hashem), when Hashem directs world events from behind the scenes.
Prayer is not designed to change or add to Hashem's infinite understanding. Its purpose is to change the individual. By probing his inner core and beseeching his Creator's assistance, Man increases his chances of finding Divine favor. Hashem is prepared to bestow; Man must be worthy to receive.
Developing one's skill in prayer is a lifetime quest. A few of the elements of prayer are: preparation, attitude, pronunciation, content, concentration, humility, a full and sincere heart, love and fear of Hashem, participation in communal worship whenever possible, and knowledge of the laws of prayer. Prayer represents an up close, face-to-face meeting with the Creator, an encounter where Man climbs the mountain and Hashem descends to meet Man half way in a figurative handshake (Reflections of the Rav, adapted from the lectures of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, p. 77).
Prayer offers the Jew the opportunity for a personal audience with his Creator three times a day. The frequency should not minimize the greatness of the moment. Prayer is food for the soul. It provides fuel for one's spiritual growth and mysteriously nourishes the entire creation. It is the tool which forges the human being into its most highly refined form - a sensitive, compassionate member of the Jewish people and a true servant of Hashem.
Steve Lerner writes from Atlanta.
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