|Prayer: It's More Than Just Words|
We turn to G-d with prayer in good times and in bad. Its prayer that gives us hope when we feel all else is lost. Its prayer that can put a smile back on our face. Prayer too, is as simple as looking up to the sky and acknowledging that G-d exists.
Prayer is for our sake. It is helpful for us to recognize our dependence on G-d for our needs. Life itself is a gift from G-d. Even when something bad befalls us, we should try to come to the realization that there are blessings in disguise and make the most of the situation. It is our daily prayers that strengthen our belief in G-d.
Prayer is mans way of communicating directly with G-d. Jacobs ladder gives us more insight as to how the connection works. In Jacobs dream he saw a ladder with angels going up and down it (Genesis 28:12). The ladder which stood on the earth reached up to the heaven. We, man, are down on the earth and the ladder, our prayer, connects us up to G-d in heaven.
History of Prayer in Judaism
The source of prayer stems from the three patriarchs. Each patriarch brought a sacrifice to G-d at a different part of the day. Abraham instituted the morning prayer, Isaac instituted the afternoon prayer and Jacob instituted the evening prayer. Each patriarch possessed a certain characteristic which in turn became associated with his prayer service:
Abraham -- kindness and love
Isaac -- justice and reverence
Jacob -- truth and mercy.
During Biblical times, the patriarchs sacrifices were turned into a daily ritual -- that was the essence of prayer. When the Temple was destroyed and sacrifices could no longer be brought, a different means of prayer had to be formed and this is prayer as we know it today. We use a siddur, prayer book, to pray and the definition of siddur is order.
Shema: The Focal Point of Prayer
The Shema prayer is the very essence of the Jewish religion. It is a declaration of faith which is composed from three passages of the Torah. It begins with Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, G-d is One." The last letter in the first and last words of this verse are written in larger letters than the rest. The two letters together spell witness in Hebrew, symbolizing that each Jew bears witness to G-ds Oneness. It is this verse that many people utter as their last words, and that people utter when full of hope as well as despair. The Shema is recited several times throughout the day: in the morning and evening services and before retiring for bed.
The Shema continues with a commandment to "serve G-d with our hearts." Prayer serves as a means of cleansing our hearts. (Deuteronomy 11:13) "It will be that if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your G-d and to serve Him with all you heart and your soul." The meaning of "today" is that the commandments should each day be as if we received them on that day. "Love" means that we are able to perform the commandments purely out of love and the honor will ultimately come.
Starting and Finishing the Day
Our prayers are a stepping stone to bring us closer to G-d. We should always strive to do our best and more. We begin our day and end our day with prayer -- giving thanks to G-d for waking up and being alive. The first prayer of the day addresses just that: "I give thanks to You, living and eternal King, for having restored within me my soul with mercy, great is Your trust."
Before we go to sleep at night, we want to do so with a peaceful mind. But, the only way to do so is to review the course of the day. It is possible that we may have offended someone and need to rectify that situation. The day becomes so hectic that we dont always have the time to stop and think about our daily actions, but before we retire for the night we have that moment to reflect on the day. We say a passage before reciting the nightly Shema to cleanse our hearts and our souls. We must also ask for forgiveness from the person himself because that is the only way for true forgiveness, but the prayer is a good beginning, and hopefully, a reminder to correct our future actions.
Kavannah: The Meaning of Prayer
It is not just reading from a prayer book that comprises prayer, it is the kavannah, the manner that we pray, that completes it. Kavannah is a sense of standing in the presence of G-d and saying the words sincerely and purely. When we pray, we have to direct our hearts to heaven.
To aid in having kavannah, we mouth the words and not simply say them. By mouthing the words, we concentrate more on what we are saying and it ensures that we havent missed saying a word. This concept evolved from Hannah, Samuels mother. Samuel I 1:12-13: "And it was, as she prayed long before the Lord, that Eli watched her mouth. But Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving and her voice was not heard, and Eli thought her to be drunken woman." Samuel I 1:15: Hannahs response, "I am a woman of sorrowful spirit and neither new wine nor old wine have I drunk and I poured out my soul before the Lord." It was Hannahs silent prayer with words, that was a prayer through the heart -- the purest prayer of all.
Prayer is a personal moment between man and G-d. The prayer books were compiled to give us guidelines of when and how to communicate with G-d, but it is within our hearts to complete the action.More Articles