Yes, this is an article about how to pray,
surprising though this may seem! You see one of the problems with most peoples'
Jewish education is that it stops at about age 13.
Well at that age prayer was
probably two things - asking for a new bike/computer/you name it and learning
enough about a Shabbat morning service to get through your barmitzvah.
people the latter was in Hebrew only and although you might have been able to
read it, understanding it was a different matter. So, what to do? I realise
that no one is going to make radical changes to their lives as a result of this
article so I will confine myself to the "Jewish position" and some ideas.
Traditionally Jewish prayer was designed by the rabbis to emulate the Temple
service; hence, for example, an additional service on Shabbat to emulate the
additional sacrifice. There are three daily services: Shacharit, Minchah and Ma'ariv. In practice
Minchah and Ma'ariv are often combined. If you look in the Reform Siddur you will see all
of these services, but they are shorter than their orthodox counterparts. The
other aspect of Jewish prayer is that it is communal - hence the idea of a Minyan to have a
formal service. However individual prayer has always been a possibility and it
this which I want to talk about next.
If you consider what we say at the High Holy Days
there are three things which "avert the evil decree" - Repentance, Prayer and
Charity. So what is the nature of prayer which makes it so special as to be
included in this threesome? If you look at the translations of the prayers in
the Siddur you will see that a certain proportion contain praise for God, a
certain proportion ask God for things - usually peace happiness and the like -
and a certain proportion talk in general terms of how the world might be if
everyone lived in harmony according to the Torah. Of
course there is much more, but you get the drift.
So - what of individual, or family, prayer? One
way of addressing this is to allocate a time - a minute will do to start - to
think about something broadly spiritual and maybe, if you feel up to it, to say
a few words. You don't have to use formal language or address God if you feel
uncomfortable with this idea. However, you can make it as informal as you like.
For example, you might want to say something like "May I be honest and true to
myself" before an interview. You may want to say something with your partner or
children at the beginning or end of the day, perhaps asking for strength to
meet the challenges ahead, or just being thankful for the day.
Once you start this dialogue you may be surprised
where it may go. You may be angry with God - don't worry He/She is big enough
to take it; and there is a strong Jewish tradition of "arguing" with God.
However, one of the things we are forbidden to do is to demand miracles of God
- hence the joke about the Jew who asks God if He/She could make him win the
lottery and who is bitter when he continually fails to. Then one day in
exasperation God says to him: "You could at least help yourself by buying a
lottery ticket!" Alternatively should you want to say a short traditional
prayer in English or Hebrew at bedtime and/or in the morning there are many
prayers which can be found in any siddur which might be of interest. Whatever
you decide start small - a prayer a month is better than no prayer at all.