The Way of Prayer: Speaking to God
In this second unit, we will explore the path to God through prayer, arguably the principle connection to God in Judaism. We will look at some of the classic themes of Jewish prayer using texts that Rabbi Sacks has selected, and develop an understanding of these themes through his writings.
Prayer is our intimate dialogue with Infinity, the profoundest expression of our faith that at the heart of reality is a Presence that cares, a God who listens, a creative Force that brought us into being in love. It is this belief more than any other that redeems life from solitude and fate from tragedy. The universe has a purpose. We have a purpose. However infinitesimal we are, however brief our stay on earth, we matter. The universe is more than particles of matter endlessly revolving in indifferent space. The human person is more than an accidental concatenation of genes blindly replicating themselves. Human life is more than ‘A tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ Prayer gives meaning to existence.
It is possible to believe otherwise. There can be a life without faith or prayer, just as there can be a life without love, or laughter, or happiness, or hope. But it is a diminished thing, lacking dimensions of depth and aspiration. Descartes said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Judaism says, ‘I pray, therefore I am not alone.’
It takes courage to believe. Jews need no proof of the apparent injustice of events. It is written on the pages of our history. Jews had no power or earthly glory. For the better part of forty centuries our ancestors lived dispersed throughout the world, without a home, without rights, all too often experiencing persecution and pain. All they had was an invisible God and the line connecting us to Him: the siddur, the words of prayer. All they had was faith. In Judaism, we do not analyse our faith, we pray it. We do not philosophise about truth: we sing it, we daven it. For Judaism, faith becomes real when it becomes prayer.
In prayer we speak to a presence vaster than the unfathomable universe yet closer to us than we are to ourselves: the God beyond who is also the Voice within. Though language must fail when we try to describe a Being beyond all parameters of speech, yet language is all we have, and it is enough. For God who made the world with creative words, and who revealed His will in holy words, listens to our prayerful words. Language is the bridge that joins us to Infinity.
In prayer God becomes not a theory but a Presence, not a fact but a mode of relationship. Prayer is where God meets us, in the human heart, in our offering of words, in our acknowledged vulnerability.
The educational aims for this unit are for students to:
- Consider the place of prayer within their religious life
- Explore how prayer can be a way to connect to God and develop a relationship with God
- Explore the following themes from the structure of tefillah:
- (a) Creation,
- (b) Revelation,
- (c) The relationship between man and himself (בין אדם לעצמו),
- (d) The relationship between man and God (בין אדם למקום), and
- (e) The relationship between man and his fellow (בין אדם לחבירו)
- Understand that these themes form the structure of our tefillot and to see examples of these themes in the liturgy of the Siddur
- Explore the following additional themes of tefillah in the thought of Rabbi Sacks:
- (a) Prayer and sacrifice,
- (b) Kavanah: Directing the Mind, and
- (c) Is prayer answered?