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Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
Jews Have Forgotten How To Pray
One of the most powerful weapons we, the Jewish people, possess – one that has been our shield from the genesis of our history – is prayer. Through genuine prayer, we can conquer and triumph over every adversity. "Ahm zu yatzarta li – I created this nation," Hashem declared, "so that they might proclaim My praise."
Indeed, to be a Jew is to know how to pray and proclaim the One-ness of G-d.
The Jewish people introduced prayer and G-d to the pagan world. Because of that, for centuries we suffered persecution, mockery, and slaughter. Today there are people other than us who can say "Amen" and "Hallelukah" and recite Psalms because we imparted that gift. But, tragically, in our long centuries of exile and darkness we, the nation that created prayer, forgot how to pray. Yet perhaps more than ever before we need prayer.
The very first step we must take when dealing with questions, crises, uncertainty, etc., is to turn to our G-d and place our trust in Him. But, alas, we turn to everyone and everything but our Heavenly Father.
Consider for a moment a parent who has three grown children. One of them calls in regularly, but his communication is always superficial. He just seems to be going through the motions and there is no genuine sincerity to his call.
The second son visits only when he needs something. If he doesn't get his way he accuses his father of not being loyal or loving, and may cease to call altogether.
Then there is the third son, who never even attempts to call or visit. He is totally estranged from his father and has no desire to build a relationship.
Most of us relate to our Heavenly Father like one of these sons. So we have to rediscover the unique power that is to be found in our own voices, the power that has the ability to pierce the Heavenly Gates.
To be sure, there are those who, upon reading this, might protest: "I prayed and prayed and nothing happened."
When you are on a treadmill, how do you know you are doing well? The obvious answer is "perspiration." What perspiration is for the body, tears are for the soul. You have to come clean in front of G-d and "spill out your heart like water."
If you are on a regimen of exercise, you don't give up – you keep at it and continue to build up your muscles. Similarly, you never give up on prayer.
Our father Isaac and our mother Rebecca prayed for the gift of a child for 20 years, and they never gave up. As a matter of fact, all our patriarchs and matriarchs prayed relentlessly for many, many years for a child, a gift that came easily to others, but was given to them only after much struggle, pain and prayer.
Our prayers must be "avodah sheb'lev – the labor of our hearts." Only such prayer has the power to elevate and transform us into the people G-d meant us to be. So it is that at the conclusion of our prayers, we strengthen and remind ourselves to continue to pray until our words ascend on high and reach the Heavenly Throne.
The Jewish Press draws readers from all backgrounds, so before concluding this column I would like to offer some practical suggestions that will help us grow in prayer. If you do not know how to pray in Hebrew, that should not hold you back, for it is written "It is permissible to recite the Shema in every language." Of course, it is preferable to pray in the Holy Tongue, but if we do not know how to do so, the main thing is that we pray. Today we have amazing prayer books with English translations and explanations, which clearly delineate which prayers are to be recited on each occasion. The ArtScroll siddur is a very fine example of this.
1. Designate a special place in your home for prayer.
2. Teach your children by example. Let them see you standing before G-d.
3. When you pray, turn off the phone and keep in mind at all times that you are having an audience with the King of kings. If you have not prayed in the past, don't be intimidated by the vastness of the prayer book. Just get started and you will grow in prayer. You may also wish to consult a rabbi as to which prayers you should commence with.
4. Collect your thoughts and stand in awe in front of Him. If your mind wanders, stop and apologize and ask Hashem to help you concentrate. You might also find it helpful to point to the words with your finger. It will help you to focus.
And now a word to the men: Make a strong effort to daven with a minyan. There is an awesome merit to this. Be careful about donning your tefillin and bear in mind that, when doing so, you are consecrating your intellect, heart, and might to G-d. Don't be late going to shul. If you had an appointment with an earthly dignitary, or even your supervisor at work, you would make sure to be on time. Do not desecrate your meeting with G-d with private conversations, and be sure to turn off your cell phones.
G-d has promised "He will always be near to those who call upon Him in truth.” Prayer is our most powerful weapon, through which we can change the world.