By Laura Seymour
It is almost time for the High Holy Days. For many, that means returning to the synagogue, and rabbis are always glad to have you back.
As we prepare, there is a very important subject — prayer. Even if you are a “regular” at your synagogue, prayer can be challenging. It can be even more so during the High Holy Days.
Joel Lurie Grishaver said, “I learned to make brachot (blessings) at the dining room table and I learned to pray on the ball field.”
There is also a song titled “The Atheists Convention” about three men on an airplane (born Jewish, Christian and Muslim) who are talking about their non-belief when, all of a sudden, the plane starts shaking and the oxygen masks come down. Suddenly, these three atheists are calling out to God. These illustrate some of the challenges we have with prayer.
Here are a few basics on Jewish prayer:
- It is said that Torah is God’s way of speaking to us and prayer is a way of speaking to God.
- The Hebrew word for prayer is tefillah, meaning to judge oneself, and it reflects the introspective aspect of prayer.
- Traditionally, Jews pray three times a day and include the Amidah. In this prayer, we follow a structure of praising God, asking God and thanking God. We ask for the community, and we can also ask for personal guidance.
- When praying in the synagogue, there is keva (fixed prayer), but we must also remember to pray with kavanah (intention/feeling).
- For families with children: kids have a lot easier time talking with God if we get them in the habit early. Make the Shema part of your bedtime ritual.
People often question fixed prayer in Hebrew — won’t God hear if I just speak from my heart? There is a folk tale of an uneducated shepherd boy who came to the synagogue wanting to pray, but he did not know the prayers. He repeated the letters of the alef bet over and over.
He said to God, “I don’t know the words to the prayers but I know the alef bet. Please take the letters and form them into the proper words.” The boy’s prayers opened the doors for all the other prayers to reach God.
So as we prepare for the High Holy Days, think about prayer — this is your opportunity to talk with God. And, after the High Holy Days, practice prayer on a regular basis — everything gets easier with practice.
Laura Seymour is director of Jewish life and learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.