(I came across the following statements about Christian monastic prayer in the course of reading about the place of music — especially plainchant — in prayer. 
As I read what the author had to say, I thought of how universally valid it is. I’ve omitted a couple of overtly Christian references, in order to emphasize its applicability to Jewish life and practice as well. We don’t yet seem to have gotten to the point where a Jewish discussion can include Christian references and teachings without creating uncomfortable feelings of proselytization. 
Jewish tradition doesn’t typically talk as much about personal experience in prayer, but that shouldn’t be taken as indicating any lack of it. One wouldn’t be at all surprised to find very similar things said, particularly by Hasidic writers — especially Breslav Hasidut among them.


“…I learn the nature of…prayer by simply praying and doing so with the intention of entering here and now into a deeper and ever more real relationship with God: to place my woman-praying-at-western-wallbeing into his presence and abide there. Prayer does not primarily have to do with any kind of mental exchange (although that has its place) but with a proximity of hearts; in other words, with love. [1]

Prayer does, of course, involve an intimate discourse with God by words spoken aloud whose meanings are intended; by words spoken interiorly in humility and truth; and by thoughts and ideas that reveal and submit my real self to the living God. For these ways to be efficacious, however, the whole person has to be gathered up and be made present to the whole being of God, since his integrity of self-giving (God does not give himself only partially!) calls for my own integrity of response. For this I must enter into the “inner chamber” of my being in order to encounter God deep in my interior silence. This requires that I place myself in silence and solitude to be present to God alone and to listen to God completely. It is in this way that I seek the Face of God so as to abide in his presence with the deepest part of my being.

Although prayer is often concerned with asking things from God, things for ourselves but also for others in all their multitude of needs, yet we must remember that God already knows what we need before we ask. So prayer, far from being an effort to inform God of anything he does not yet know, is the crucial entering into the lived reality of one’s trust in God, passing from a condition of incertitude, anxiety, and distrust, to a firm state of soul in which all tendency to calculate and insure one’s own welfare gradually yields to the encompassing presence of God’s providence. We gradually learn and acknowledge in our heart that good comes only from God. It is then that we can “speak” our hopes to God forjewish-man-praying-painting it is then that they will be in accord with his divine love for us. Similarly, we are now able to bring the needs of those for whom we pray before the Face of God, utterly trusting that his love and ours will be effective in the way it should be. [2]

When it comes to something quite essential for prayer, it would be good to remember …that God loved us first and from that we learn to love. Prayer, therefore, is perhaps best seen as first allowing God to speak to us and then by our making the response of communing with God with receptive hearts, minds, and emotional sensibilities. Through such times we can come to know ever more fully and intimately who God is for us. We rest in a trustful faith that grows from our ongoing prayer life. As we make our faith filled journey through life, our God fills us with a bright hope that reaches to the highest horizons. From our faith and hope, springs a love that forms us ever more to be like God is, namely, pure Love for all that exists…” [3]

(How well this writer’s words illuminate the inner spirit of Jewish prayer as well. And what a commentary it makes for the “V’ahavta.” He can help us develop our own personal prayer-life.)


[1] photo from:

The photo was taken at the Western Wall, Jerusalem. A Jewish girl was leaning to the wall and praying. The Western Wall has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries. It was also one of the most popular tourist sites in the world. In the daytime it is usually very crowded due to tourists, but the prayers are still devoutly involved in their own spiritual and religious world.
Photo by Jiajing Wang ‘13

[2] painting by Marc Chagall: “The Praying Jew” (Rabbi of Vitebsk)
It’s interesting that my parents, who were overtly non- (even anti-) religious, had a copy of this painting, or possibly another much like it, in our living room when I was growing up.

“In his 1931 autobiography, My Life, Chagall related how, while visiting Vitebsk (present-day Belarus), the city in which he was born, he realized that the traditions in which he had grown up were fast disappearing and that he needed to document them. He paid a beggar to pose in his father’s prayer clothes and then painted him, limiting his palette primarily to black and white, as befit the solemnity of the subject. This portrait is noteworthy for the simplicity of its execution; nonetheless, its striking patterns, abstract background, and the slightly distorted features of the model demonstrate Chagall’s absorption of modern trends, especially Cubism.”

Although Chagall was not intending a portrait of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, I’ve included a brief bio here:
Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (1730?–1788), also known as Menachem Mendel of Horodok, was an early leader of Hasidic Judaism. Part of the third generation of Hassidic leaders, he was the primary disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch. From his base in Minsk Menachem Mendel was instrumental in spreading Hasidism throughout Belarus.
In the winter of 1772 or 1774 he, along with Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (who regarded Rabbi Menachem Mendel as his Rebbe after the Maggid’s passing) went to the Vilna Gaon with the aim of convincing him to rescind his ban on Hasidism, but the Vilna Gaon would not receive them.
After the Maggid’s death, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, along with fellow disciple Rabbi Abraham Kalisker, settled in Horodok. In 1777 the two, along with 300 followers, emigrated to Eretz Israel, settling in Safed, Ottoman Syria. In 1783 they were forced out of Safed, and moved to Tiberias. The synagogue they built there in 1786 still stands among the Ancient synagogues of Tiberias.
The Tanya (see “Compiler’s Preface”) is partially based on the works of Rabbi Menachem Mendel.
Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk is the subject of 15 of the stories in Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim.

[3] from the website of “Monastery of Christ in the Desert”