“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
—Mark 1:35, NIV—
“If you want to see change, it starts with prayer. It’s the most powerful tool we have.” 1
Many have spoken and taught on the subject. Few truly understand or practice it. We must not only be People of The Book, but we must be People of Prayer. But how do we become this? This is a brief attempt to explore the topic of prayer, and encourage one another to become a People of Prayer.
“Birth is G-d saying you matter.” —The Rebbe2
You have been designed to pray. You were created with the capacity to pray. Only you can bring forth the praises of Adonai. Only you can commune with the Creator of Heaven & Earth. Although nature has the capacity to praise the Creator perfectly, the perfect praise of nature does not compare to the imperfect praise of man. Here are some very basic reasons to pray regularly:
- Obligation—We were created to praise the Almighty. Prayer should be 95% praise, 5% petition.
- Discipline—Prayer is a discipline that will bear forth much fruit over time.
- Transformation—Through prayer we are transformed by renewing our minds.
- Community—Through common prayer we join our hearts and our voices with others, including those who have gone before us: the prophets, The Master, the disciples, etc.
- Prayer makes a difference—It may be the only difference you make in another person’s life, especially those who will not hear the message of Torah from you.
THE PURPOSE OF MAN: To change the world.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all of one mind together. (Acts 2:1)3
The talmidim were gathered together on Shavuot and of the same mind. They were together for a common purpose, and most likely common prayer & praise. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were praying the Amidah or the Shema or one of the Psalms when the Ruach began to be poured upon each one of them. They were not renegades, but part of a body of believers that not only had common creeds, but common deeds. In this particular passage, we see the believing community gathered together for common prayer & celebration. It was during this time, the Almighty chose to meet them in a powerful way.
“We are called to single-handedly change the world—
and the only way we can do it is with other people.”
In the days of the judges, chaos reigned supreme. The most popular phrase I see in the book of Judges is that “each man did what was right in his own eyes.” What does this mean? It means that the Torah of Adonai had been forgotten already since the days of Joshua. Scripture says “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers [the generation that had come out of the wilderness], another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel.”4 They had forgotten their Deliverer and His ways. There was not a standard by which life was governed. But not only that, there was division in how service to the Almighty was directed. They each were determining how to live life according to their own understanding. There was no communal unity other than in times of war.
Often prayer is thought to be a private thing, but this is only one aspect of prayer. Since ancient times, prayer has been communal, as well as private. It has been something to share as a community—a means by which a corporate voice could be lifted to the Almighty. In fact, in the Jewish understanding of prayer it is said that a prayer “not offered in the plural” is no prayer at all. This way of thinking has been crucial to the survival of the Jewish communities throughout the ages, especially during times of persecution. It has given the Jewish community a sense of solidarity in the most troubling times. It reminds one that he is not alone in life, that the cup of his lot is to be shared—the joys are multiplied, and the sorrows are divided.
In order to change the world, we must be in joined together for the purposes of Adonai. Communal prayer is a major key in this. When we have a true sense of community, rather than isolation—especially in our communication with the Almighty—we have a type of synergy unlike any other. In the times of the judges, the people had no common voice in addressing the Almighty. In the days of the disciples, they did.
How to Pray
Rabbi Shimon would say: Be meticulous with the reading of the Shema and with prayer. When you pray, do not make your prayers routine, but [an entreatment of] mercy and a supplication before the Almighty, as is stated “For He is benevolent and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and relenting of the evil decree.” —Pirkei Avot 2:13
Two most important things to remember about prayer:
“It may be tempting to change your life all at once, but slow, steady progress is always more effective than a ‘crash course’… Remember, even the longest journey can only be completed one step at a time.” 5
“Should circumstances make it necessary for a person to choose between saying more prayers without kavanah and saying fewer prayers with kavanah, the fewer are clearly preferred…Says the Talmud: ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, desires the heart’ (Sanhedrin 106b).”6
Knowing vs. Doing
Contrary to popular belief, the core difference between Christianity and Judaism is not Messiah. It is knowing verses doing. Christianity places the emphasis on the gnosis of messianic fulfillment, while Judaism places the emphasis on the application of messianic fulfillment.
Something Boaz Michael emphasized several times during his teaching on prayer is that majority of those within the Torah movement are a prayerless people. We do not have a consistent and active prayer life. We are more concerned with the trivia of the mitzvot than the performance of them. We would rather read a book on prayer, rather than pray.
We are a people of much knowledge, but little wisdom. What do I mean by this? How do we make a distinction difference between knowledge and wisdom? We can get into a huge discussion of the differences, going back to the original Hebrew, etc. but this is not my point. My point is practical and observable. To me, the core difference between knowledge and wisdom is application. Let me briefly elaborate. Was not Solomon the wisest man in all the earth? But was his decision to marry pagan women wise? The answer is obvious. This leads us to a profound question. Why did the wisest man on earth make such an unwise decision? Answer: Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Foolishness is the refusal to apply knowledge. And this is where the unspoken words of Boaz this weekend were deafening. Though he had a message of a disciplined prayer life, seeing his application of his knowledge of a disciplined prayer life this weekend spoke much louder than his words. It was incredibly inspiring, and challenged me to get on the boat in regard to not only prayer, but many others of structuring my life. Just seeing his siddur literally fall apart in his hands told me a story without any words at all from Boaz.
Inspiration can go a long way if we cultivate it. We can inspire one another to excel along the path of our spiritual marathon.
Know Before Whom You Stand
“Inasmuch as we also relate to God as the King of Kings, the Sovereign of the universe, no less courtesy should be shown to Him than to mortal kings.”7
Too many times we are far too casual in our prayers to the Almighty. We speak to him flippantly and arrogantly, rather than remembering that we are speaking to the King of Kings and the Creator of the Universe. We should come before the Almighty in an attitude of reverence, no less that that of a mortal king, as our quote suggests.
The Pesukei D’zimrah (Verses of Song) is the section of praises in the siddur that immediately precedes the Shema and Amidah in the morning prayers.
Pesukei D’zimrah (פְּסוּקֵי דְזִמְרָה) literally means “Verses of Song”. However, the Αrtscroll siddur points out that many have related the word דְזִמְרָה to תִזְמֹר, which means “prune.” This section of the morning prayers, therefore, is viewed as “Verses of Pruning” whereby we “cut away” all of the distractions that would not allow us to enter into prayer with the proper kavannah. It strips us of ourself by magnifying the Holy One, and prepares us to take on the kingship of the Almighty in the subsequent prayers.
Why did Adonai lead B’nei Israel around the the midbar for forty years, when He had already removed them from Egypt? He had to remove Egypt from them.
“One who is so pressed for time that he finds it necessary to rush through the Pesukei d’Zimra should weigh the following advice from the Talmud: ‘A man’s words before the Holy One, blessed be He, should always be few’ (Berakhot 61a). It is better to say less and to say it wholeheartedly.”8
The praise of the Almighty is serious business, and it puts us in the proper perspective, it prunes us, and it will eventually bear much fruit in our lives.
Bridges for Peace has a great downloadable article (PDF format) on pruning that I recommend reading here: Bearing Fruit in God’s Kingdom.
Prayer is the key to self-discipline and communication with the Almighty. It’s not about me. It’s about Him. It’s about reducing me, and increasing Him. John made this statement about Yeshua: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). This was the essence of his prayer, and should be the essence of ours.
When To Pray
Hillel said, “Do not say ‘When I free myself of my concerns, I will study,’ for perhaps you will never free yourself.” —Pirkei Avot 2:4.
We have all found this principle to be true in our studies, and have grown frustrated with those who will not take the time to study. Now we must turn our attentions to the area of prayer. We cannot afford to use the excuse of lack of time. We are all allotted the same twenty-four hours in a day as anyone else, and must choose to use this time to our advantage.
Each moment is like a dollar in our hands—we choose how to spend each and every one. We can spend it wisely or foolishly. We can invest each of our moments, or spend them selfishly.
“The world says time is money, I say that time is life.” —The Rebbe9
The Time of Prayer
We have examples from Scripture that there are certain “favorable” times through which the Almighty chose to interact with man.
In the morning:
- Psalm 5:3 (Praise early in the morning)
- Acts 2:1-4, 15 (praying at the 3rd hour)
- Mark 1:35 (Yeshua praying early)
- Mark 15:25-37 (Yeshua on the cross)
In the afternoon:
- Acts 3:1 (Peter & John)
- Acts 10:1-3 (Cornelius)
- Acts 10:9 (Peter)
These may not be “specific” times, but we know that the day is divided into morning & afternoon. Why not praise the Almighty at each division of our day?
How Do I Start?
If you don’t know where to start, or how to start, and you don’t have much time to begin with, Psalm 14510 is a great place to begin.
א 1 I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
ב 2 Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
ג 3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable.
ד 4 One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
ה 5 I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.
ו 6 Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts,
And I will declare Your greatness.
ז 7 They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness,
And shall sing of Your righteousness.
ח 8 The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
ט 9 The LORD is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.
י 10 All Your works shall praise You, O LORD,
And Your saints shall bless You.
כ 11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
ל 12 To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
מ 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
ס 14 The LORD upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
ע 15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
פ 16 You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
צ 17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
ק 18 The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
ר 19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
ש 20 The LORD preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
ת 21 My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name Forever and ever.
This one Psalm brings out multiple aspects of praise that require our attention. Following is a partial list:
- God’s Kingship
- Our praise is joined with creation itself
- Our praised is joined with those of other generations
- A reminder to speak of the glory of the Almighty
- God’s attributes of mercy
- God’s ability to restore & revive
- The closeness of the Almighty
- The protection of the Almighty
1 Verbal quote from Boaz Michael at the “Knocking on Heaven’s Gates” seminar, May 21, 2006.
2 Jacobson, Simon. Toward A Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe (a collection of teachings by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson), Copyright ©1995, p14.
3 This is a near literal reading of the Majority Text Greek, which uses the word ομοθυμαδου (of one mind) rather than ομου (together) of the NU.
4 Judges 2:10, NIV
5 Jacobson, p149.
6 Donin, Hayim. To Pray As A Jew, ©1980, p20.
7 Donim, p71.
8 Donin, p169.
9 Jacobson, p143.
10 In this listing of the Aleph-bet, the letter נ (nun) is curiously missing.