Speaking to God

Prayer means learning how to speak with God

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God's Compassion

Nonetheless, the proclamation of God's compassionate acceptance is the sturdy undercurrent of Jewish prayer: "A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, You will not despise," cries the Psalmist (51:19).

In the course of Jewish history, endless meditations, exercises, detailed programs, and rec­itations have been developed for prayer, with many still in use, more long since discarded. They were never intended to reflect the emptiness of certain legislated phrases or the seemingly impressive recitation of long memorized prayers. Rather they have all been aimed ultimately at one state of mind: the worshiper should feel the impact of his or her action and should be willing to offer up a soul to God.

Maintaining fervor in any activity is a challenge. In prayer, when immediate rewards are often not apparent, it is particularly demanding. The discipline of regular prayer is difficult enough, with the pressing obligations of everyday wearing down resolve. Yet the true obstacle to prayer is not its regularity but its depth. In the Talmud we are told that God requires the heart (Sanhedrin 106b). To offer a heart in prayer is to open oneself, peeling off the rugged armor with which we shield our souls in a hostile world. It means abandoning our need for certainty in interaction: and allowing ourselves to be swept up in a dialogue as ancient as it is powerful. Learning, in short, how to speak with God.

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Rabbi David Wolpe

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles and the author of several books on Jewish belief.