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Temple Beth El

Offering Conservative Jewish worship since 1935

83 Chestnut Street/POBox 383
Oneonta, NY 13820
Phone: (607) 432-5522
Email: TBEOneonta@gmail.com

October 2019

Dear Congregation,

A few thoughts about prayer.

As we all know the prime ritual of the High Holy Days is prayer. However, God does not need our prayers; it is man who feels the need to pray. It is therefore important to understand the various aspects of prayer, how it works and what we hope to achieve by it.

An insightful interpretation of Jacob’s Ladder, that he saw in his dreams, on which angels of God were going up to heaven and coming down on it, was a symbol of prayer. The ladder which stood on the earth and reached into the heaven, showed Jacob that prayer is like a ladder which connects the earth with the heaven, man with God. The meaningful words of prayer, the good resolutions which prayer brings forth, are transformed into spiritual messengers which go up to God, and God sends down blessings in return. That is why Jacob saw in his dream that spiritual messengers were “going up and coming down,” and not the other way around.

According to our sages there are three levels of prayer all derived from the Hebrew words for prayer. The word for prayer in Hebrew is “tefilah-prayer” which is derived from the verb “pallel” which means to judge. Therefore on one level prayer is a time of self-judgment and self-evaluation. When a person addresses himself to God and prays for His blessings, he must inevitably search his heart and examine himself whether he measures up to the standards of conduct which our tradition has prescribed for man to follow. This is why we stress in our prayers God’s infinite goodness and mercies, and pray to God to grant us our heart’s desires not because we merit them, but even though we do not deserve them.

On the next level, prayer becomes “avodah-service”. Our tradition commands us “to serve God with our hearts,” and our Sages ask, “what kind of service is service of the heart; it is prayer”. In this sense, prayer is meant to purify our hearts and our nature. Prayer, in the sense of the service of the heart is the instrument whereby when we judge ourselves, we recognize the faults in our character and make an effort to improve ourselves.

The highest level on the “ladder” of prayer is reached when we are so inspired as to want nothing but the feeling of attachment with God. On this level “tefilah” is related to the verb “tofel”, to “attach,” or “join,” or “bind together,” as two pieces of a broken vessel are pieced together to make it whole again. Our soul comes from God and it therefore wants to be reunited with God in holiness; as a small flame when it is put close to a larger flame is absorbed into the larger flame.

I wish for our whole congregation a happy, healthy and prosperous Shanah Tovah of fulfilled prayers.

Rabbi George Hirschfeld