Updated: Sep 8
Prayer is perhaps one of the most misunderstood rituals in Jewish tradition. There used to be a time when people go pray for hours on end, which for us seems like a distant reality. Sadly, many people nowadays equate it with simply doing the three daily prayers, Shacharit, Mincha and Arvit – and that’s it! – You fulfilled your obligation for the day.
Technically that is true. But what is prayer supposed to be like, really? And more important, what are the secrets behind it?
The truth is that powerful and effective prayer is much more than a wish list. It is in fact the most powerful tool for changing reality and, for women in particular, it is the most direct way of connecting to Hashem (for men, it’s Torah study). There are reports that some Rishonim (lit. first ones) from the 10-12th century actually had to do Tefillat HaDerech (the prayer for the journey) when praying. This is because when praying, they (mentally) nullified all physically to experience a higher plane. And coming down from such lofty heights could actually be dangerous!
As we know, Rabbi Chaim Vital was the holy Arizal’s prime disciple, the one who wrote almost everything we know of him. In his book Gate of Mystical Intentions (Sha’ar HaKavanot), he explains that the purpose of all prayer is to lift up the holy sparks that fell from the “breaking of the vessels” before the creation of the physical world we know. As we explained (in this article) Hashem, in his great wisdom, created a multitude of the so-called “spiritual worlds” to act as filter of His infinite Light. As a silversmithpurifying His material, He decided to separatethe holy from the unholy by means of “breaking” many of these worlds. Their “shards” fell into the physical world and manifest themselves as all types of “deficiencies” that we encounter in our lives! These can be health issues, sustenance, children, difficulties finding a spouse, difficulties with a spouse and everything you can imagine.
Moreover, the Sages (Taanit 2A) teach us that prayer is the service of the heart. The very verb in Hebrew which is “Mitpalel” is reflexive and indicates an act someone does to oneself. Through prayer (and all other mitzvot), we are able to find these shards within us, and elevate them to their source, in order to bring about blessing to the higher and lower realities.
When one prays he should not only have in mind “what I’m lacking”, but also “why am I lacking?”. If we search deep inside and really do the service of the heart, we can certainly find the answer.
Rebbe Nachman from Breslev said already that prayer and Torah study are two sides of the same coin. The way you pray is the way you study and also, according to Rabbi Daniel Katz, it’s the way you live. Through prayer, one can expand one’s mind to come to a higher place of love, compassion and wisdom.
To live is to pray and to pray is to live.Rebbe Nachman also teaches us that prayer is an aspect of Emunah (true faith) because only one who prays has access to the Creator. It’s well known from Breslev tradition that he stressed a lot the practice of Hitbodedu (self-seclusion) for a minimum of 1 hour every day in order to reach the state of nullification before Hashem.
It’s worth noting that Rabbi Chaim Vital says that, just as no two days are ever the same, no two prayers are ever the same, from the beginning of Creation until the end of times. This is because every time we lift a spark, our work is done. So while it might seem that the same problems keep persisting, it may either a different spark or we simply haven’t done the work of lifting it properly.
We then derive a very important lesson: prayer is mainly meant for us to look into ourselves, perform the necessary rectifications and be worthy of the very thing we are asking for.
We know from the Talmud that Moshe Rabbenu (our teacher) prayer 515 times to enter the Land after Hashem had forbidden him from doing so due to his striking the rock at Mei Merivah. According to our sages, the Creator literally had to tell him to STOP, otherwise He’d have been forced to concede.
So, wherever you are, don’t despair if your prayers are not answered immediately, or even after some time. As Rebbe Nachman’s main disciple, Rabbi Natan, used to say, every prayer that is repeated for 40 days is bound to give result!
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This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!