What is Prayer?

This is perhaps the most difficult and misunderstood part of Judaism for most people. Of course prayer is not only a huge mitzvah, it is part of most organized religions. Prayer has been practiced by pagan cults and idol worshippers long before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were born. The Egyptians worshipped animals, and believed that Pharaoh was a God. Abraham’s father Terach was a maker of idols, and throughout history human beings have prayed to all sorts of things. God specifically explained to us in the Ten Commandments that He is a jealous God, and He despises idolatry.

Today we still have a large segment of the world’s population praying to the dollar bill. This is foolish thinking, and is what the Ten Commandments warns us not to do. These are the idols of silver and gold that we must not worship. Of course we need money in order to live, however we must not lose sight of what HaShem wants us to do. A tremendous number of sins are caused when we forget about God, and place too much emphasis on money. Take a good look at the Second Commandment, and you will realize why so many negative mitzvahs have to do with idol worship. Most of the problems in the world today come from abusing money, instead of using it properly to help other people.

Prayer is a Jewish person’s secret weapon in life. It moves a person to take a good look at their life, and return to doing what is right in the eyes of God and their fellow human being. God knows what is in our minds, it is up to us to get our own feelings and actions straight. Jewish People are asked by HaShem to pray to Him alone. We do not need anyone or anything to intervene on our behalf. We are not allowed to pray to anything else, nor is it necessary. It is not necessary for anyone else for that matter, however for someone who is not Jewish it is acceptable to pray through an intermediary. Please refer to the section regarding the Seven Noachide Laws, and what it means to be a “Righteous Gentile”.

In Hebrew the word for prayer is tefillah. The root of this word means to judge, differentiate, clarify, and decide. We recommend that you read the introduction found in the ArtScroll siddur (prayer book) about prayer. The explanation is excellent, and too involved to completely explain here. The Psalms are known in Hebrew as Tehillim, which is similar to the word tefillah. The Psalms were written by various people throughout time including Moses, King David, King Solomon, and the sons of Korach. They were collected and compiled together by King David. The Psalms have been a source of comfort and relief for people for thousands of years. In the days of the First and Second Temples the Levites would sing the Psalms every day in the courtyard areas. Today in some synagogues a certain Psalm is read for each day, and of course on Shabbos we read and sing many of them. Please read each Song of the Day for yourselves.

Psalm 81 is read on Thursdays, and we want to share part of it with you here. Verses 9-17 are as follows: Listen My nation and I will attest to you; O Israel if you would but listen to Me. There shall be no strange god within you, nor shall you bow to an alien god. I am HaShem your God, who elevated you from the land of Egypt, open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But My people did not heed My voice, and Israel did not desire Me. So I let them follow their heart’s fantasies, they follow their own counsels. If only My people would heed Me, if Israel would walk in my ways. In an instant I would subdue their foes, and against their tormentors turn My hand. Those who hate HaShem lie to Him – so their destiny is eternal. But He would feed him (Israel) with the cream of the wheat, and with honey sate you. At the part of the Psalm where it says “open wide your mouth and I will fill it”, a person is to ask God for everything that they need. According to the great Rabbi Ibn Ezra, God urges us to ask for all that our heart desires. By asking for everything that we need, a person shows that their trust and faith in God’s power and generosity knows no bounds whatsoever. (Taanis 3:6) Prayer is our secret weapon against our enemies.

While we want World Peace, we acknowledge there are people who want to destroy Israel, and the righteous people of every nation, including the United States. We cannot include every prayer or every way to pray on this web site, however we will include a few. We ask you to purchase the ArtScroll prayer book, and there are various types. You should buy the complete siddur, which has the Sabbath and Holiday prayers, as well as the weekday services in it. The Ashkenazic and Sephardic siddurs are almost exactly alike, buy the one you like best. The main difference is that the Kaddish prayer is a little different in the Sephardic book, and a few other very minor changes. We prefer the Ashkenazic book known as Siddur Kol Yaakov.

If you are not aware of this, there is something in Judaism known as a minhag. A minhag is an accepted tradition that certain communities and synagogues follow. Your minhag will vary depending on your Rabbi, or the customs of your family tradition. Because Judaism varies from country to country, and from tradition to tradition, Jewish people are different. Please remember that these minhagim (minhags) are about customs and traditions. They are not about the 613 Mitzvot, which cannot be changed, added to, or subtracted from. A minhag has to do with things like whether you eat beans, rice, or lamb on Passover as some Sephardic Jews do, or potatoes and chicken as most Askenazic Jews do. Some songs are sung in a different melody, certain Torah and HafTorah passages are read on different holidays, and other customs are observed according to various minhags. As we have mentioned in other sections of The Mitzvah Project, every Jew and every non-Jew is different. Each tribe of Israel has its own specialty, and each person has their own certain thing to add to achieving World Peace. Our job is to serve God as best we can. We must not lose sight of HaShem, and we are to subjugate our will to His. We have to rise above our animal instincts and be holy. This is why the tribes camped around the Sanctuary in the Wilderness, and why the Temples were established on Mount Moriah.

On Succos or Sukkot we bring the four species together, and wave them in every direction. This represents all types of Jews, those who are religiously observant and those who are not. We wave them to show that God is everywhere. Even though we cannot see Him, He controls everything in nature, on Earth, and in the Heavens. We have free will, and it is up to us to use our free will to do what is right. God gave us the Commandments and the Torah, and we accepted it and agreed to follow it. Psalm 104 verses 1 and 2 are as follows: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of HaShem – good understanding to all their practitioners; his praise endures forever.” This is to teach us to stay away from sin, and to be a good person in all we do.

We will share a prayer with you, and it is especially helpful for those of you who are not accustomed to pray. We know you may feel strange talking to yourselves, just remember that God hears you and knows your innermost thoughts before you speak. He enjoys your prayer, and He will answer you. There is an old saying that the Gates of Heaven are sometimes open and sometimes closed, but the Gates of Repentance are always open. Our prayers can change things, this you can be sure of. On three separate occasions in the Wilderness, God Himself wanted to destroy the Children of Israel for their sins. Moses prayed with the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and similar prayers, and HaShem changed His mind and spared the people. Throughout history many people great and small have prayed and their requests were fulfilled. Let’s all come together and pray for World Peace, and don’t forget to ask for it now and forever. Sometimes our prayers are answered when we don’t need them to be, so be careful what you ask for and when.

The following is an acceptable prayer for any occasion, and if possible you should ask every day. Please add any prayers of your own, for goodness, righteousness, and mercy. We will use the name HaShem in these prayers, feel free to substitute “O Lord” if you wish.

HaShem, our God, and the God of our forefathers, please grant us peace and all the blessings in the Universe now and forever. Please remember on our behalf the greatness of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, for our good and benefit. Please bless me, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my city, my state, the United States of America, the State of Israel, and the righteous of every nation, now and forever with all the blessings in the Universe.

Please bless us with peace, true peace, with each person showing love towards each other. Please bless us with perfect health, free from all disease and suffering, whether it be spiritual, mental, or physical. Please bless us with prosperity, and an overabundance of money, food, clothing, and shelter. Please bless us with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and intelligence so that we may fulfill your Torah and all 613 mitzvot.  Please bless us with happiness, love, joy, and grace in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. Please bless us with righteous children who will constantly observe Your Torah and obey Your mitzvot. Please bless us with all these blessings and more, now and forever. HaShem, my God, and the God of my forefathers, Almighty Father, please turn the hearts of the wicked toward you now and forever. May you cause them to repent and return to you and obey Your mitzvot immediately now and for all eternity.

HaShem, my God, and the God of my forefathers, please destroy all those wicked ones who will not turn to you, now and forever. We know you don’t want to harm any of your creatures that you have made, however their cup is overflowing with evil. Please destroy those who will not turn to you before they harm me, my family, my friends, my neighbors, anyone from the House of Israel, or any of the righteous people of the Earth, now and forever.

Thank you for joining us here at our web site, you have just done many big mitzvahs. Please tell your friends and family about us, and do your best to study and perform or refrain from the 613 mitzvot. We will make the world a better place, and we will achieve World Peace with the help of HaShem and with the participation each other. Thank you again and Shalom!