Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 20 May 2017 / 24 Iyyar 5777

The Merciful One (G-d) Desires the Heart

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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It is better to pray less with proper concentration than to pray a lot without concentration. (Shulchan Aruch 1:4)

If one is able to pray all of the prayers with proper concentration, this is better than cutting out some of the prayers. But if someone is forced to cut out some of the prayers, or he realizes that he will not be able to concentrate properly and he cuts out some of the supplications in order to pray with proper concentration, it is considered in G-d’s eyes as though he prayed like someone who said all the prayers with proper concentration (Mishneh Berurah). The Sefer Chassidim (315) writes that it is better to praise G-d with few words without hurrying than to rush and say many words.

The complexities of Jewish prayer! Praying in Hebrew, saying words chosen for us, searching for a minyan, “lengthy” prayers, complex laws of prayer — you get the idea. These factors may make it easy to lose sight of what prayer is all about. In three simple words: Rachamana liba ba’ei — the Merciful One desires the heart — our Sages remind us what, above all, G-d truly desires (Zohar Parshat Ki Teitzei 281b). Prayer is a bond of love between G-d and us, and its magical ingredient is one that only G-d can measure.

Today, prayer stands in place of the daily sacrifices offered in the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, regarding about which it is said: Man lit a fire below, while a spiritual fire came from above (Yoma 21b, 52a). True, the Sages gave us the words to say, but it is our job to bring them to life, to say them with heart. In doing so we provide the fire from below to meet with G-d’s fire from above.

Prayer is not reserved for the righteous; we all have a voice. G-d listens and responds to the child and the scholar alike. His door is open for both observant and non-observant. It is thus written: “My house (the Beit Hamikdash) is called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). Not always is it the smartest, most skilled individual who offers G-d the best prayer. On the contrary, sometimes the simplest, least noticed person is the one who awakens G-d’s mercy with his sincere, humble supplication.

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