Prayer – it is not something we are trained to do, the language is foreign, and we may only remember a few words from childhood Hebrew School. Yet some of the melodies invoke nostalgia. But let’s be honest, praying or davening as it is known, is something that is uncomfortable for many of us.
What is prayer? Why do we need it? And why pray in a formal setting?
Simply put, prayer is the way that man communicates with the Creator. It is us (as humans) reaching out G-d to ask for help or thanking him (G-d is neither he or she, however we speak in human terms) for the goodness in our lives. At the very core of each person is a neshama, a soul, a spiritual life force that animates us and gives us life. That essence is a touch of the Divine in each human. The neshama creates a common bond between us and G-d. Prayer strengthens that bond.
Why ask G-d for help? Maybe I should talk to a friend or even my therapist. The reason is simple, the Creator cares deeply about each human and his or her life. Abraham, the first Jew, provided a unique contribution to the world by recognizing one G-d. The essence of Judaism is the belief in G-d. Prayer is the way we talk to G-d.
Prayer is not that complicated. Talking to G-d can be done anywhere and anytime. There are places that are more conducive: a synagogue, the Western Wall, the graves of the righteous. Those places are imbued with greater sanctity. The primary mitzvah of prayer in the Torah is to ask G-d for our needs whatever they may be. To remind us of our connection to G-d, Judaism — from Biblical times — has instituted three daily prayers, a liturgy, drawn from the Psalms, the Torah, and the poetic spirit of saintly Jews. These prayers give us a structure for talking to G-d. The daily obligation of prayer causes us to pause in the midst of the day, and remind ourselves of the essential connection between us and G-d.
So what are about those who are not proficient in Hebrew or do not understand the service? What should they do?
First you can pray anywhere, and in any language. Make the idea of meditating and praying to G-d in your words a daily occurrence. Second take some time to upgrade your Hebrew reading skills, and study the prayers. Through education you will gain a deeper appreciation of prayer. You will also discover how prayer can enrich your life. Finally, start going to services. If daily or weekly is too much, try it monthly. You will unveil the rich spiritual legacy of your ancestors. More importantly, regular prayer will open up your spiritual consciousness.
Start talking, you will find G-d is listening.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is rabbi at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org