Judaism is saturated with prayer time. Halacha mandates us to pray three times a day. When we’re off from work, on Shabbos and Festivals, our prayers are extended. On the High Holy Days we pretty much spend the entire day in synagogue. That’s not all! Besides the institutionalized prayers it’s also recommended to set aside some time every day to talk to God in our own words. As Rabbi Yochanan said (Brachos 21a), “How great would it be if we would pray all day long!” But why do we need to pray so much?
By far the hardest thing to believe is that God constantly renews the world. Meaning, not only did He create the world a long time ago, but every millisecond He is conceiving the entire creation anew. Everything our eyes see indicate the exact opposite. We wake up in the morning and we still have our debts. Our bosses are still in bad moods and we’re tired from going to sleep too late the previous night. Just about everything we remember from the past continues presently with no change. God’s invisibility (הסתר פנים), specifically in regards to the renewal of the world, is ultimately the most powerful ploy of the other side.
Rebbe Nachman writes (Tinyana 8) “The essence of the world’s renewal is dependent upon faith. It’s impossible to comprehend the renewal of the world with our intellect. That’s why the infidels refuse to believe it”. I think the reason why the Rebbe said “it’s impossible to comprehend” is because everything we experience discredits this renewal.
When the Israelites battled Amalek in the desert, they would prevail when Moses raised his hands and would lose when he lowered them. The Talmud explains that when Moses raised his hands, the Israelites would subjugate their hearts to Heaven and pray. The verse describes Moses’ hands as ‘faith’ because prayer is the tool we have to instill faith.
In yiddish to pray is to daven, from the Aramaic word d’avuhon (דאבוהון), which means “from our fathers”. It’s true that our prayers were instituted by our forefathers, the patriarchs, but there is a subtle meaning here as well. What it’s saying is that prayer is old and stale. It’s something that was relevant a long time ago but it’s not for us. This is why, sadly, the term davening also connotes verbalizing something without paying attention to its meaning.
This misconception about prayer couldn’t be further from the truth. When we pray we’re demonstrating our faith that God perpetually renews the world and everything about it. If a person is sick, we pray asking God to renew the world without that diagnosis. When we pray for money, we’re begging God to revive the world with a new way to help us make a buck!
Davening is the way Amalek wants us to pray. With no heart, no belief and no vitality. This is what we see too often in our synagogues and within ourselves. But we need to forget what we know about prayer and start again. Just like God recreates the world, we need to recreate our prayers. Let’s go to synagogue grounded and meditate slowly. Lets say meaningful and powerful words. Even if we don’t say most of it. It doesn’t matter! It’s our time to connect to the world’s renewal. It’s not God forbid something that was only relevant to our grandparents. We all have a part in the rebirth of the world. That’s why our Sages established so much prayer time. Because we need to combat the never ending illusions that life is just “the same old thing”!
This is the last month of the year. Although the world is constantly rejuvenated, there are still auspicious times of rebirth. Let’s forget about how cumbersome institutionalized prayer has become and do something new with our prayers. God isn’t concerned that we finish the entire siddur. He’s just waiting for us to call out sincerely, in the way that only we can, with faith!