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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

 

While the main focus of this volume is on the “how” rather than on the “why”, a deep religious experience cannot be based only on outward behavioral performance.  The stress on external compliance with laws and deeds, while important, is not Torah Judaism. Relegating intimate inner piety to a category devoid of a sense of the Infinite, the Reflective, and the nature of existence, robs the Jew of a true religious dimension.  We should abide by halachah not for its own sake, but for the sake of G-d.  Observance of rituals and respect for transmitted customs and institutions should never take the place of faith and reverence for G-d.  Halachah: discipline, tradition, fulfillment of religious obligations is the subject matter of this book.  We are directed by G-d to scrupulously observe His Torah Laws, commandments and regulations. But these activities (A number of which are described in this book) should not be performed in a spiritual vacuum. 

 

Finally, this book is not aimed at reconnecting Jews to their roots, nor is it designed to overcome the language impediment to a better understanding of the meaning our Hebrew prayers. It assumes that the reader can either read Hebrew or has reluctantly decided to pray in English. In either case, the book targets  not only a beginner who wants to overcome a feeling of estrangement when it comes to Synagogue prayer protocol, but also to one who “already knows the ropes”  The latter may wish to learn more about Synagogue methodology and the techniques of prayer in order to intensify its emotional component .

 

I make no claim to have created, invented or originated a new approach or philosophy of prayer. I have attempted only to pull together and systematize an extensive array of material, and to bring it forth in a clear manner so that it becomes a valuable source guide for Jews who pray, or wish to pray.

 

It should be clear that a true understanding of the Torah way of life can only be acquired by studying our living storehouse of knowledge: The Torah, Prophets and Holy Writings, the Mishnah and Gemarah (collectively referred to as the Talmud), and eventually the Halachic literature. These components are not only the source but the heart of what it means to be a Jew, and the wealth of translations in recent years has opened this rich trove of Judaism to English speakers. To these writers, the author extends a Hakarat Hatov, (appreciation). Their books have deepened our insight and comprehension of what prayer is, and has guided us in the proper execution of this concept called tefillah. 

 

In our contemporary society, tantalized as it is by the sound byte, too few Jews (whose numbers are decreasing due to assimilation, birth control, etc.) have set aside time for serious religious studies.  People are busy with countless divergent issues, whose importance, in their minds, takes priority.  The fact of the matter is that by and large the learning of Torah for too many has faded in importance, if indeed it was ever a factor. Accordingly, this book is a synopsis, a review and an outline for those who genuinely want to gain a better insight into the practice of Jewish prayer.  It can be used as a reference book or for serious or informal reading.

 

I stress that any errors of omission or commission rest with the author alone.  I respectfully invite the reader to submit any comments, corrections or suggestions to:  Israel@ibrubin.com.  I have endeavored to ensure that everything in this volume conforms to halachah or accepted custom. The reader is encouraged to make use of the bibliography to attain a full understanding of the prayer book and to delve deeper into our Sages' approach to prayer.

 

What is the purpose of PRAYER?                

If we look at prayer just as a conduit to fulfill our needs we might be disappointed if our requests are not granted. Worse yet, such a let-down might lead to a lukewarm or halfhearted approach to prayer. Understanding the proper character of prayer is the gateway to the mitzvah of tefillah. Fulfilling a Torah mitzvah is a reward in itself. As we shall see further in this book, our tefillah, as honed in the Shemoneh Esrei, begins with praises of G-d. Only then do we implore Him for our various needs.

 

We conclude by thanking Him for all that He has given us. By asking G-d to fulfill our wishes (for health, peace, material and spiritual support) we acknowledge that only He has the power to grant our requests. Still, if despite passionate prayer and recitation of Psalms, our prayers are not answered, we must continue to pray. The pain is real, the confusion and disillusionment are tangible. Yet if we view the mitzvah of praying as a building block for our share in the Olam Habah (World to Come), we will find ourselves praying with even more Kavanah (focused intention). G-d works in mysterious ways. Our unanswered (to us) prayers may yet be answered, perhaps another member of our family may be spared from illness, or some other unanticipated gift may be granted to us.

 

Despite possible disappointment or frustration our prayers were not a waste of time. Time and again we see and hear stories about the remarkable domino effect of prayer with Kavanah. We will never be disappointed if we look at prayer not as a means of changing G-d’s decree, but as a mechanism for acknowledging our absolute reliance on His will and His compassion.

Recitation of the fixed Hebrew text may not be a spontaneous activity, especially if one does not understand the meaning of the words. Yet, the daily repetition of the sacred phrases engenders spiritual sensations, perhaps even vibrations of the soul, bringing us closer to Hashem. The starting point of almost all Jewish prayer is praise of G-d. The pray-er recognizes the hand of Hashem in all matters of life and death. Prayer is a sincere and distinctive act of connecting with one’s Maker. There are times in one’s life whether from turmoil or joy, one wants to be close to Hashem. Prayer can bring about that affinity. As the Prophet Hosea expressed in his wish to be near to G-d – “...in their distress, they will seek Me”[1]  For the thinking Jew, a meaningful existence is a reflective admission of one’s reliance on G-d.

While a discussion about fundamental Jewish beliefs is beyond the scope of this book, it is important to understand why we pray. Prayer is the essence and soul of man’s relationship with Hashem.  “…prayer itself is a means of purifying the heart… It evokes in the man who prays a profound recognition of his dependence on the Blessed Creator…By his prayer, man shows that he needs G-d and has no existence without Him”.[2]

 

Israel Rubin

Beit Shemesh, Israel

August 2010

[1]  Hos. 5:15

[2]  Prayer, Rabbi Abraham Kon. London: Soncino Press Ltd, 1971