Why Pray? Jewish Answers

Jews pray in order to enrich our lives and seek comfort, to connect to the past and to others, to celebrate and develop a sense of the sacred, to serve God and help make ourselves Godlike.

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Prayer Reminds Us of Life's Truths

Perhaps first and foremost, prayer is a delivery system for committing us to the great ideas that make life worth living, because ideas that are ritually construed empower us to do what we would otherwise never have the courage to do. Prayer moves us to see our lives more clearly against the backdrop of eternity, concentrating our attention on verities that we would otherwise forget. It imparts Judaism's canon of great concepts and moves us to live our lives by them.

--Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D., is Professor of Liturgy at the New York campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Reprinted with permission from The Way Into Jewish Prayer, published by Jewish Lights.. 

Prayer Connects Us to Other Realms

I pray daily. I wrap a prayer shawl, known as a tallit, over my head; gather its four fringed corners; and bring them to my lips. It lasts only a moment, but under the tallit I feel a sense of security and warmth. It is the closest I get to heaven all day. The tallit I wear is one that I inherited from my father. It is a broad woolen blanket-like shawl with a silver brocade that falls on my shoulders

why jews prayUnder the tallit, I feel my father's presence and my mother's presence. They are no longer in this world, but under the tallit I feel connected to a different realm where I encounter my parents and even the Almighty Himself. When I take the tallit off my head, I am most often in the presence of my children, who are usually finishing their Cheerios and their Kix as I go through my daily devotions.

At times I am able to meditate seriously on a verse or two, but usually it is hard to concentrate on what I'm praying. I've got to get the kids off to school, and my work lies ahead of me, but I pray, knowing I've started my day attempting to reach the Divine. My hope is that it makes an impression on my God, my ancestors, and my children.

I know it makes an impression on me. I feel fortified by prayer. I am in a relationship with God. I praise, I acknowledge, thank, request, express my love, and sometimes even get angry. My connection with the rest of the world--with my children, my wife, my students, my colleagues--flows out of my daily encounter with God.

--Ari Goldman, a former New York Times reporter, is the author of The Search for God at Harvard and Living a Year ofKaddish. Reprinted with permission from Being Jewish, published by Simon and Schuster.

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