Ask most Jewish men and women what “prayer” is, and they will probably answer that it is the written prayers we say in synagogue.
The essence of prayer, though, is something much more personal and private. It goes on much more in the mind and heart, than in the mouth!
Torah teaches us that God created the entire universe (all the universes), demonstrated mastery of nature by the 10 plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea and displayed continued Presence in creation at Mt. Sinai.
In prayer, we rediscover again and again what all this has to do with us personally and individually.
God created everything “in the beginning,” but the siddur also reminds us: “Ha’m’cha’desh b’tu’vo b’chal yom tamid ma’aseh breishith”– “You renew the work of creation daily.” Not only daily, but even moment-to-moment. If God were to cease creating, nothing would continue to exist.
Personal prayer can begin with recognition that God is creating you at this very moment. Even in the time it has taken you to read this sentence, God has re-created you — perhaps several times.
Further, the Rambam teaches that God is creating everything out of His Own Existence. Just as no wave can exist without the water of the ocean, nothing exists without God, or God’s “Life.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady uses the similar metaphor of sunlight: It really has no existence separate from the sun (the traveling of light-particles through space notwithstanding).
So, having first internalized and affirmed that God is creating you in this moment — whenever it is — you can proceed in prayer to acknowledge that our life or “existence” is never separate from God’s. It can’t be.
We recall that at Mt. Sinai, God “showed” that He was there. He’s no less “here.” No less present to us now — whoever we are, wherever we are.
If you’ve done this sincerely and thoroughly enough, you’ll find yourself in God’s Silence.
Then, whatever concern you might have — emotional, physical, financial, etc. — bring it to mind without losing, upsetting or obscuring your experience of God’s Silence. Or, you can speak about your problem or feelings, using words that are comfortable for you.
Remember at the same time that however insurmountable your problem might seem to be, God is infinitely powerful over all — as demonstrated by the 10 plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea. God’s power over “nature” or “creation” is just that overwhelming.
You might doubt that power at first, especially as it relates to yourself. But you have the testimony of Torah itself to answer your doubts.
I know, in this “scientific,” “rationalistic” era and culture, that the factuality of the events in Torah is considered “questionable,” at the very least. Here, though, is exactly when and where to put intellectual or theological arguments aside and accept the Torah as it has been given to us. In the moment you do that, you take the first step of “faith” (emunah) or “trust” (bitachon).
You don’t need to beg God to help you. It would be of no help to do so, anyway. But we can repeat placing your problem in God’s Silence to gradually think less and less of the problem and more and more of God.
Then: “B’ya’do af’kid ru’chi” — “I put my soul in His hands,” as “Adon Olam” says. Let the problem go. Sometimes, in fact, God will suddenly remove concern about the problem from your mind and heart.
God loves us. God loves you. No matter who you are or what you’ve done.
God intends only good for you and through you, even if sometimes you don’t see that good in the form that you expect. When you accept that God is always, only Good, you’ve taken a next step in emunah or bitachon.
Speaking about prayer too much makes it seem more complicated than it really is.
Prayer is simply the awareness of God creating you moment to moment and your life as a “wave” (as it were) of His Life. It is knowing that God never stops loving you and that God has power over everything and everyone.
How much I would love to see more Jewish men and women praying with joy as often as they can, wherever they are, about whatever concerns them!