Tuesday, February 13, 2007


posted by Shira Z.

There are many interpretations for prayer. A person can define prayer as praise, offering, or to enter into a spiritual communion with G-d (Random House College Dictionary). Although there are many interpretations for this word, it is still hard to grapple with the concept of prayer. Throughout the centuries, the Jewish people have been praying to Hashem day in and day out. There are three established prayers- Ma’ariv, Shacharit, and Minchah. But the oldest fixed prayer is Shema. For in both Duet. 6:4-9, Duet. 11: 13-21, and Num. 15: 37-41, it states, “when you retire and when you arise”. From this point Rashi explains that the commandment is to recite Shema twice a day in both the morning and night (Jewish Virtual Library). Even though we have all these interpretations and sources for prayer, essentially what is the need for prayer?
Throughout history, we have seen our predecessors turn to Hashem in prayer during times of need. In Sefer Samuel, Channah, a desperate mother pleas for a child and we see her from the depths of despair call out to Hashem. She begs for a child and uses prayer as a tool to connect with Hashem and let her express her pain. Similarly, Moshe prays to Hashem on behalf on the entire Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf. He, like Channah, is at the depths of despair, and doesn’t want to see Bnei Israel get annihilated for this sin. Moshe used the thirteen attributes of mercy as prayer to connect and receive mercy from Hashem. Later on in history, the story of Purim happens. Again, as the Jewish nation is on the verge of total destruction, they turn to prayer in order to plea to Hashem. They see that they are about to lose their lives and realize Hashems complete sovereignty of the world. All these stories throughout history are very inspiring, but in these cases, the Jewish nations were in time of need and they saw direct responses to their prayer as Channah received a child and Bnei Israel was saved in both the time of Moshe and Purim. But times have changed and there is much difficulty with prayer in modern times.
Today, difficulties of being a Modern Orthodox Jew are exposed and we have a hard time seeing the need for daily and formal prayer. But many feel that the purpose of prayer is to increase a person’s awareness to Hashem and feel his sovereignty over oneself and the entire Jewish nation. Although one may not see the constant need to pray because maybe their life is going fine and they don’t feel a need to say anything to Hashem, we must continue to pray in order to establish a strong relationship with him. But just reading words is not prayer. We must have kavanah or concentration when we pray to Hashem and understand what we are speaking. Although it is hard, we must find a meaning in such an ancient prayer and try to incorporate it into our lives (Jew Faq). The Jewish nation may not see such a direct impact of their prayer on their lives but in reality, Hashem is just as there as he was in earlier times. Personally, I don’t think a single person can state that they don’t have anything to pray for in the modern world we are surrounded by sickness and war. But how do you feel as a Modern Orthodox Jew? Do you feel that we still have a need for prayer? Furthermore, do you feel as if we have the same connection with Hashem when we pray as the Jewish Nation had during ancient times?

Random House College Dictionary
Rashi Deut. 4:7


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same connection we had in ancient times with Hashem in prayer, in my opinion, is still relevant and alive today. Jews are still prejudiced against and hated and though our modern day society claims to preach the sermon of the politically correct one need only make a quick search of the internet to find all the anti-Jew and neo-Nazi groups that are alive and well in this modern day.The knowledge that there are those who blatantly hate jews and host gatherings against them causes a modicum of fear that causes us to do just what the Jews in the ancient times did; turn to Hashem in prayer.Prayer is a basic way of talking to Hashem. We get the opportunity of reconnecting with G-d 3 times a day. We can say tehillim any time we want.Prayer is one of the things that I identify with as a Jew. A special language I have with G-d, if you will. Having a prayer for any occasion from the happiest times to the times when we are screaming out to G-d to help us is an amazing part of Judaism.Prayer is important in any religion;the need to reach out to something in supplication is prevalent in many different religions such as Christianity, Mormonism, Hinduism...all of these religions have prayer to some sort of being. Judaism is similar when it comes to prayer, we cry out to Hashem when things go wrong but it is true that when things are good that we still need to remember that prayer is not applicable only in times of suffering. It is something that is always important. Call it "quality time with G-d" . For any relationship to grow and strengthen the two people need to have time together to keep the relationship going. Without prayer when will we really stop and think about Hashem and all he does for us?

February 13, 2007 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that prayer is a neccesity for keeping the Jewish people together. Without Minyanim and Shuls, how would Jews Congregate? I also agree that prayer keeps up our relationship with Hashem, Avoda and Judaism were meant to be one and the same. There is however the other half of our Judaism the relationship "bein Adam l'chavero" that we constantly have to be aware of. At the risk sounding non-Orthodox, I stress the importance of Tikkun Olam. There are plenty of non-religious Jews and non-Jews as well who were created with a Tzelem Elokim and deserve our respect and cooperation. Especially while living in galut, we have to balance these two relationships. This poses a challenge for many of us, especially since I believe that we do not have the same connection to Judaisim as the Jews of old had. There is a concept of "Yeridat Hadorot", that the spiritual level of the exiled nation goes down over the generations, until we all move to Israel at the time of the mashiach, we will have to balance the mitzvot of "bein Adam l'Makom" and "bein Adam l'Chavero."
P.S. sorry if that was a bit of a rant

February 14, 2007 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree that we msut pray everyday still in this modren world. but i think that the problem is that since we do not innately feel a connection with praying, it has to be taught to us really well in school in order for us to understand why we still need it, and without that innitial understnading, prayer will not be to its full potential. i think that the older generations should somehow teach the younger generations what prayer is and how to get the ultimate connection with god even though this seems kind of impossible to do in our days.

February 19, 2007 8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that there will always be a need for prayer. Prayer was established to help people not because G-d needed to hear from us. Prayer serves as a humbling experience. It teaches people that there is something greater than themselves and that they will always be dependent on a greater entity for their well being. But prayer also serves to comfort people. Throughout history Jews have been persecuted and oppressed and have found comfort and solace in their prayers. Not to bring up such a controversial movie as a proof, but Tom Hanks delivered an interesting line at the end of The Da Vinci Code. He speaks to his co-star who is allegedly the descendent of Jesus (there is an entire essay to be written on this subject, but for now I'll let it be :) ). He tells this woman, Sophie, that she has great power in her hands, she can either renew or destroy faith. By revealing her true identity she could destroy the tennants of Christianity. But then he tells her that when he was younger he fell into a well and was convinced that he would die. Tom Hanks says that it was at that moment the he felt that there was a presence with him. He felt that there was a being protecting him, and this being gave him comfort. He felt that there was someone listening to his cries. So, in a nut shell, what I am trying to say is whether or not there is actually a someone listening to our prayers, if people feel strength in times of trouble or if people feel comforted then it really makes no difference whether or not they are truly being heard. So, to bring it back to our issue, whether or not G-d actually needs our prayers, if it means bringing hope to people then there is a need.
Shira says that all is going well with the Jewish people today and I would venture to say that that is a somewhat naive and innocent perspective on human nature. The Jewish people might be doing well collectively as a whole, but individually people will always have problems. As long as there are relationships (and I am not really referring to those romantic relationships) there will be drama. People always need to be heard and to feel as if there is someone who will always be on their side. Even though there is no Holocaust, expulsion, or massacring of the Jews there will still be personal problems. As long as people feel the need to speak there will be a need for somebody to be listening.

February 25, 2007 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Lisa Amy said...

i agree with amalia that the connection and need for prayer is the same today as it was in ancient times. Then bnei israle prayed to hashem to save them and help them in their lives, and it worked. I think that throughout the ages the majority of the jews lost touch with prayer. today we still have the same issues to pray about as they did, such as save us from our enemies/ attackers and take us out of galut. However, because not all of bnei israel prays and is unified, Hashem wont help us.
(Also, i agree with others that prayer is also the personal individual way to connect to God. and it is necessary beacuse we can not offer korbanot today.)

February 25, 2007 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so firslty i would like to say that although we see past prayers directly responded to, i dont think that while it was going on they did. for example, although we read the stroy of purim and it seem that it all occured over a time span of a couple of months, itt in fact, took a lot long of time. hindsight is twenty twenty, so now we clearly see that in the past prayer has worked, but at that pion in time i dont think that it was so clear. i agree that prayer is important but i disagree with the system. according to Rambam {orsomeone ,im not sure who, i jsut remmber learning this when learning for my Bat Mitzvah} said that prayer isnt the words in the book or the time schedueling. it would be sufficient to jsut take time out, whenver , as long as it is eveyr dya, and say ur own couple of words to God. the aspec tof wirtten words and such occure din order ot help people find what they was to say to God. the idea that prayer replaces korbanot coul also explain for the time scheduling, but personally i think that a strict scheduel and words to say detracts from my ability to connectt with God. i know all the words of the Tefilla by ehart and if i jsut say them then i space out while sayign the words. when i take time out to pray with my own words i truly think about what i have to sya the God. despite this i believe that prayers r important as an established thing for a communal reason. it allows everyoen to gather together with the same goal at least twice a day and without prayer and other religious ceremonies it would be hard to feel connected as Jews.

~tamar schneck

February 25, 2007 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Shira M said...

So i think that prayers back then were answered and maybe they did have a closer connection to Hashem. Since we are in exile now our prayers arent as influential or important as the Korbanot or things of that nature. This is why i think Hashem answered their prayers more of the time. In recent times if we ask for something we are not sure we are going to get it. and it was like that back then, but i think they did have a stronger connection and that Hashem probably listened to them more and responded. I do not think that this means we should not daven and not pray becasue Hashem won't listen, in fact I mean the opposite. Because we are more disconnected from Hashem now, we NEED to pray to him to connect. The more we pray and have kavanah and really mean it, the more we feel closer to Hashem and possibly the more he listens. Davening is not just to connect to Hashem but it is also for us. It is a time to reflect on what is going on in our lives and a time just for you and Hashem. I think the need for prayer is greater than in ancient times because Hashem is not responding to us as he did in the ancient times and it is important for us to daven to the best of our ability.

March 01, 2007 6:18 PM  
Blogger Debbie said...

I think it is important to note that Shema may be the first written prayer, people have been praying since Adam and Eve.
I think one of the real arguments to think about is established prayers, and whether people should be able to adress thier God in their own way or prayer should be written for others simply to be recited (and personalised to an extent). Although we may not be on the same level (with God) as the anchient nations were, individually our relationships with God have not changed. Our spiritual level as a nation has.

There will always be a need for prayer, because there is a constant need for faith, the two go hand-in-hand. With faith, humans want to connect to God, and thier outlet is prayer. People need faith and people need hope, and the perfect way to epress themselves is through prayer.

March 04, 2007 11:12 AM  
Blogger saragaut said...

o.k. so this is another topic that i have a problem with (shocker) anyways, i would like to begin by saying that i dont know why it is that we see a greater direct impact of prayer on the jews in ancient times, perhaps it could be that we are so assimilated now that our prayers as a whole are no longer strong enough, as sad as that may seem. it seems like maybe we need prayer now more than we ever have. However, this is more easily said than done. i think a reason prayer has evolved so differently is bc back then evryone seemd to have one main cause and today everyones focus is so seperate that there is a different outcome for everyone that is not so obvious to us/ i would like to finish with two ides. first we must realize that hashem answers every prayer it is just that sometimes.. the answer is no. the question then becomes why did he answer yes so much more in the ancient times. secondly, on a personal note, i know that prayer is hard for me (and probably many other people) bc i feel as though it is to set and too structured. if people have different needs and wants and things to pray for than shouldn't we all be able to use different words?
just a thought
--sara gaut

March 04, 2007 11:04 PM  
Anonymous Dasi said...

Many comments have been left on this really wonderful and interesting topic and I believe they are all valid and personal. Jews in the ancient times are ultiatley the same as Jews now; they face dilemmas, endure hardships, and enjoy happy times. For all, I believe, prayer is a process. I think most of us can agree, despite our level of connection with tefillah, that when a really awful tragedy occurs or a dire situation arises, you feel comfortable reaching for a siddur in the corner of your bedroom and mouthing some tehillim. Why? It could be that the presence of something above you exists, like many have said, but for me (like what Rebecca said) it is about selflessness. Prayer removes you from that material world, allows you to focus on other things and praising something else. Bring all the Jews to redemption, or eliminate enemies, or cure the sick. Even Shma Koleinu, a personal prayer, is in the "us" tense, listen to OUR prayer. "Elokai netzor” is the easiest prayer for me because of its, well, selfish nature. Davening certainly comes easy to me then, in a time of need, but in a regular time, is is a character building exercise. In addition, I find that prayer is a quiet place when I need it, to talk to something, even to myself when I am not sure of Hashem's presence. No one bothers you until you take three steps forward or finish a paragraph. It is just you, alone, improving yourself and connecting to Hashem.


March 05, 2007 9:11 PM  
Anonymous lisa amy said...

so, im thinking that even though a persons individual prayer is really special, organized prayer is so imprtant because it really kept the jewish nation as the jewish nation. Once the beit hamikdash was destroyed, bnei israel had little ties to one another because before they would all meet at teh beit hamikdash and perform ceremonies, but afterwards, there were minimal holidays and nothing special. the jews adapted the already known but not commonly used tefilot which a niche for the jews to fill in the missing parts left empty form the beit hamikdash. just like teh beit hamikdah people gathered to gether to become closer to god however it wasnt reliant on anything exceot the people themselves so it wasnt as hard and it could continue for generations. So yes add your own private prayer but i think organized prayer- a group of jews together is the closest thing to the spirit from the beit hamikdash we have - so we should never give up on that.

March 13, 2007 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Eliana said...

I don't think anyone can say that prayer is a "needed" thing for Jewish people. It certainly has a communal, traditional, cultural aspect that unites the community, but there are other ways to accomplish that. My sense of prayer is that it is a personal thing more for your benefit than god's or anyone elses. When someone was very sick I went to shul ot say Tehillim. This was very shocking to me at the time because I hadn't prayed for months, and was pretty convinced of certain non-jewish non-religious ideas. As I davened I thought about the person I was praying for and my convictions against praying. I realized that if I didn't daven or ask god to help this person, i was completely powerless; I would be surrendering all common sense, cause and effect, etc. The outcome of this person's disease would merely be random. I wondered whether I was willing to accept that. Upon further reflection, I realized that prayer is there for exactly that reason. Regardless of whether god exists or not, prayer is an emotional, psychological, mechanism to help humans get through life. It helps them believe and confirm that belief that something else in this world has control and can turn chaos into order. In times of powerlessness, when the limits of our beings are apparent, prayer is the opposite. It gives us power; it gives us a tool; it gives us a means to act, to do something other than wait. That is a purely emotional and psychological benefit. I mean God's clearly not gonna save a life because one person davened, and he clerly didn't take away a life because someone didn't daven hard enough. That school of though is just setting an unattainable standard. prayer has nothing to do with god; its purely personal.

March 14, 2007 11:40 PM  
Anonymous tova said...

although it seems as though the jewish nation had greater connections in the ancient times then we do now, i do not think this is true. it only seems so becuase only the relavent ones with the impact were kepy l'dorot.....i think the same thing can apply with tefillah that we learnt with nevuah. there were so many more nevuahs then what we know today b/c only the ones that were relevant l'dorot were passed down. the same thing can apply to tefillah. everyone davens and pray to hashem asking for help etc., however only the ones that taught a lesson or that could be used as a model/were relvant for the benefit of other people to learn from were kept l'dorot and written down. of course there are tefillot in the ancient times that wrrent answered but there are also many that were and therefor taught a valuble lesson, thus passed down to generations. this is why it may SEEM like there was a greater connection but in reality i dont thnk there is. i think tefillah has the ability to serve the same purpose it did back then. yes they had korbanot way back which tefillah is our replacement for now, but they also had tefillah the way we do now. korbanot were an addition that unfrotunately we dont have now, however, tefillah remains the same.
of course there is a need for prayer....to thank, praise, and request from hashem. i dont think it is right to only turn to hashem in times of need becuase we have to notice him throughout our lives at all times. i think this mya be why tefillah is a required obligation. tefillah is very hard for a lot of people since the immediate effect is not necessarily noticed (espeiclly when u are not requestion s/t sapcific in a time of need) however since it can be disrespectful to ONLY turn to hashem when u need him, tefillah is thus an obligation to help us see and relate to God at all times.

March 22, 2007 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prayer, for most people, is a difficult thing to grapple with. Whether we don’t know what we are saying or we would rather talk to our friend sitting beside us, it’s not so easy to sit down and daven. When we are able to achieve so much by ourselves, it’s difficult to appreciate all that Hashem does for us. If you give someone a hammer, nails and some wood, they’ll build something and feel proud. I don’t know how many people will be thinking how appreciative they are they God gave them the capabilities to use their hands and brain etc. I don’t know how likely it is that he’ll attribute his power to Hashem. I am not saying that there are not those out there who don’t appreciate each and every thing God does for us. There are people that constantly have Hashem on their mind, but it’s not so easy for everyone. But just because something is not easy does not mean that we don’t have an obligation to do it. It’s a lot easier to ask for something when we want it, but to continually have a connection with God- that’s a bit harder. What an incredible relationship we can have with someone who is there for us whenever we need Him. We are given an opportunity, day after day, to build a relationship with our creator. We certainly do have a need for prayer because we still have a need for a relationship with Hashem.
Naomi Z

March 25, 2007 1:27 PM  

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