Successful prayer involves lifelong quest

For the average Jew, there are just two or three days per year they will attend a synagogue service. Let us join one of these Jews on his journey into the synagogue, and let’s call him Jonathan.
Jonathan is a kind and caring person, believes that there is a God, but isn’t quite sure how to define that. He went to Sunday school, had a bar mitzvah and contributes to Jewish charities. So, he puts on his nicest suit, and he heads over to the synagogue. At the door, he is greeted and shown his seat.
He opens the prayer book, and he tries to follow along with the cantor. The language is vaguely familiar, and even though he took Hebrew 20 years ago, he can’t really follow along. For the parts that are in English, he reads along with everyone else, but isn’t quite sure why it is necessary to read of all this. He hears the shofar blast — and feeling good about himself for taking care of his religious duties, he probably won’t bother doing the same thing every weekend and certainly not every day. The thought of sitting through this every week is excruciating.
Makes perfect sense. If you have no idea why Judaism requires prayer, and what it is supposed to accomplish, then why bother with it? There is a famous parable of a poor man who dined at the home of the rich man. Whenever the rich man desired something, he lifted a small bell and rang it, and immediately a servant would appear with the next delicacy. At the end of the meal, the host offered the poor man any single item he desired from the table, and the poor man chose the bell.
He went home, and invited all his friends for dinner. As soon as they all arrived, he pulled out the bell and started ringing it, and of course no servant showed up. Showing up to services without having the tools of prayer and expecting to be drawn in is to behave like the poor man.
The Talmud refers to prayer as the time of war, a ferocious battle. As a Jew, our mission is to fill the world with the Divine, and we accomplish this through making sure we follow the commandments of the Torah and implement them in to our daily lives. For us to fulfill this mission, we need to be attuned to and conscious of our Creator. This is the purpose of prayer. The world is a spiritual desert, and it fights hard to pull us away from the Divine and toward physical enjoyment and indulgence. The time of prayer is the time to scrape away the coarseness of the physical world, and to focus our consciousness on God, and to guide our thought, speech and action to remain consistent with this mission.
Learning how to pray is a lifelong mission, and coming into a synagogue to pray without prior training and understanding of prayer, is akin to showing up for a tank battle with a butter knife.
The sages tell us, “Were it that a man would pray all day.” This doesn’t mean that we should neglect our livelihood, but that they wished that the pure state of mind, and focus on the Divine that we achieve during prayer, should remain with us all day long.
Be prepared. Don’t walk into the synagogue and ring your bell, and expect that miraculously you will know how to pray. If you need a place to start check out the book, Mystical Dimensions: Deep Calling Unto Deep by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet. It is available free on
Wishing you a prayerfully successful Happy and Sweet New Year, L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu Veteichatemu!
Rabbi Dov and Chana Tova Mandel are directors of Chabad of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

Leave a Reply