Insight into Prayer
Moshe Ben-Chaim
We find in the Torah (Gen, 30:2), Rashi states when Rachel desired children, having none, she asked her husband Jacob that he should have prayed for her. When Jacob responded, according to Rashi, "God has withheld children from you and not me", he was not acting viciously. He meant to say, "You have the need, not me, and God has not answered you. You must then be the one to pray, as prayer enables one to reflect on their own needs, hopefully directing you to your flaws, repenting from character traits preventing you from childbearing."
The institution of prayer, "tefila", contains numerous ideas and insights. The very word "tefila" contains the root "pi-lale", which means to judge. One is judging their needs as they pray. One is to come before God, with ordered and previously judged requests. "Are my supplications deemed valuable in God's eyes?" Such a question is appropriately addressed prior to presenting one's prayers to God. If one wishes something, he or she must first determine it is a good as defined by God, and this we can determine only through study of His Torah system.
Another concept is the one praying attests that "God knows my thoughts". Via this realization, that all man's thoughts are revealed to God, man is enabled, and coerced in a way, to be completely honest with himself, as there is no 'fooling God'. Man must realize, "whatever I think, God knows". Therefore I must be honest in what I actually value, be it good or bad. God knows me. This might be a subtle point, but feel it is so essential to realize. It is a central component of prayer, albeit rarely enunciated. Standing before God requesting our needs normally obscures the fine points which we must ponder. If we do realize that God knows us, this very standing before God prompts us to reflect on what it is we come to request before God. Then, hopefully, the one praying will question his very requests. He may analyze whether his desires fit into God's plan for mankind. This is the vital role of prayer - it motivates man to come to terms with his needs, questioning, analyzing, and updating his former requests with only those filtered and approved by Torah standards.
So many people complain that God doesn't answer us. But God does know each man's thoughts. God created our minds, He surely knows each one of our thoughts. We say this on Yom Kippur. Therefore, if what one requests goes unanswered, it is a great lesson, and man should be as thankful when unanswered as when answered. This divine silence teaches that perhaps our requests are not in line with God's plan for man. Meaning, the request is harmful. What should be our response? We should immediately reflect on what might be corrupt in our requests. We should talk it over honestly with a wise man, a rabbi, or a teacher, someone well versed in Torah, and human psychology. He, more than anyone else, is able to determine where you veer from Torah values. He will explain the correct values, and you may learn how to improve your life. This is why the Talmud says, "If one is sick, go to a wise man." The Talmud doesn't say "go and get a bracho", a blessing. Why a wise man? As we said, only he can look carefully at your life and analyze your character and your desires. He can then see what flaw exists in your nature, leaving you either unprotected or deserving of punishment by God, causing illness to befall you. Then you may incorporate this knowledge into your life and save yourself. So too in all areas, not just illness. Don't wait until you are ill to analyze introspect - do so now.
What else do we learn from the institution of prayer? It also reminds us that God is the One who created the system of morality. Therefore, we come to Him alone to ask forgiveness. This is one of the 13 requests in our Shemona Esray prayer. How do we learn that God created morality? It is via our request for forgiveness from only Him. Isaiah 43:25, "I, I erase your willful sin for My sake, and your sins I will not recall." His ability to forgive means He governs man, on earth, and in the next world where retribution might meet us. We are reminded of His omniscience, as He says He will not recall one's sins when one repents.
He alone sets the standards of good and evil, so from Him alone do we request forgiveness. Only He can forgive, because only He determines morality. Only He has the ability to wipe away our sins, as only He can hold man accountable. Nothing aside from God can punish.
We learn our halachic formulation of prayer from Channa, when she prayed for a child. She moved her lips with no emanating voice. We see that prayer requires a concretization of our wishes, otherwise left in the realm of blurred thoughts. This concretization in the form of articulation transfers our abstract thoughts into a solidified reality, and we are confronted more clearly with our own wishes, allowing us to examine desires otherwise left unnoticed. Again, we see how useful prayer is. Our self examination is enabled by converting inner, silent feelings into articulated structures of our lips. This very act brings our thoughts into a perceptible light, from their normally, hidden state.
Prayer means that God is a reality - He is the One with Whom we converse. This is so vital, as most of our days may be spent intercoursing with our fellow man. We forget the reality of God's existence as a truth. Do we think of Him as real as our friend? Our friend responds when we talk. In prayer, although we do not hear a response, this in no way alters the truth of God's knowledge and interaction in our lives. By praying, we admit His participation in our dialogue of prayer. Their is a Recipient of our prayers.
When King Solomon became king at 12 years of age, God spoke with him in a dream saying, (Kings I, 3:5) "Ask what I (can) give to you." God was referring to advancing Solomon's knowledge unnaturally, as knowledge is only in proportion of one's studies. But here, this once, God granted a man knowledge other than by natural means. My deduction is that God would not give King Solomon knowledge without his request. Why would God not give something without a request? Perhaps this teaches that man must approach God for his needs. This act of request imprints on man the idea that man's good can only be a good, if man realizes his fortune as emanating from God. Only a request from God will teach man this essential concept. Had good befallen man with no prior request, he may not attribute his good fate to God. Prayer teaches that man's fate comes from God. God therefore requested that King Solomon think into his request, and then he gave him that gift of knowledge afterwards. This taught two lessons to King Solomon: 1) Knowledge comes from God alone. God said, "Ask what I (can) give to you". What "I" shall give, and no other. 2) One must think into his requests prior to prayer. For this reason, God did not initially reveal what e was offering King Solomon. He required him to examine himself, and only then respond.
Also, King Solomon was directed to asking for knowledge per se, as God intimated that He was offering something that only He could provide. Physical objects can be obtained by man, but knowledge, only through God. King Solomon took God's dream message and used his knowledge to deduce what God was offering. We see once again, that God causes man to use his mind when relating to God. Perhaps this is how God relates in all cases. He causes man not to simply hear something, but in a dialogue initiated by God, prophecy, God demands man's mind be engaged, and this is achieved via a certain raw form of information where the prophet must engage his thinking. In prophecy, man is not simply hearing a clear message - he must engage in an analysis of God's words. As God holds all knowledge, His word is not as man's - completely understandable. This is impossible. God gives prophecy to man in a raw form, and man must 'study' God's word, not just listen to it. This must be, as the One of infinite wisdom is speaking. Maimonides teaches that each prophet receives his visions from God in a language suitable specifically for him. We learn from this that man can only relate to God on the plain of intelligence. Many fools believe they can "be in touch with God" via their feelings, or other nonsensical notions. Torah teaches otherwise.
Prayer reiterates our conviction in God's existence. He is all-knowing; Omniscience. He has control over the entire universe; Omnipotence. God relates to man via knowledge.
Relate to Him through knowledge. Maimonides said, "In accordance with one's knowledge is his love of God." So too, in accordance with ones knowledge, does God relate to man.

Philosophy | Tnach | New Postings | JewishTimes | Audio Archives | Suggested Reading | Live Classes | Search | Letters | Q&A's | Community Action | Volunteer | Links | Education | Chat | Banners | Classifieds | Advertise | Donate | Donors | About Us | Press | Contacts | Home


Mesora website designed by
© 2003 Mesora of New York, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Articles may be reprinted without permission.