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A selection of passages in which modern thinkers ponder the meaning of prayer:
In the mitzvah [commandment] man is one, and as a whole he relates himself to the One God. The most revealing example in this connection is, perhaps, the case of prayer. No doubt, it is possible to pray “in one’s heart,” without words and without any bodily movements or gestures. One may pray in silent meditation. But it ought to be understood that such prayer may be appropriate for a being that is pure in mind or soul; it is most certainly not the adequate manner of praying for a being like man.
The perfect prayer on earth is one which is prayed not only by the soul of man but by the whole of the human being, body and soul. As the Psalmist exclaims, “All my bones shall say: ‘Lord, who is like unto Thee…?'” Man’s situation requires that his very bones should be capable of “prayer.” But this is only possible if prayer too becomes a mitzvah, i.e., a deed unifying body and soul. Prayer, therefore, cannot be only silent meditation; it has to be spoken word. It has to be bodily action, informed by kavvanah [intention]. Bodily prostration before God, for instance, is no less essential for prayer than is spiritual concentration. The prayer of man should be “manly” and not “angelic.”
–Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (1908-1992) was chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois. Reprinted from God, Man and History: a Jewish Interpretation, published by Jonathan David
Prayer is a Gesture Toward God
[In this book of fictional dialogues, Judd Lewis has asked Albert Abbadi about traditional Jewish practice.]
Albert Abbadi: Prayer, you see, is what we offer up to God, and our offering, like the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple, should be perfect. This is another reason why you should concentrate on learning the prayers by heart.
Judd Lewis: Yes, but this is a little unclear. Because if you say “prayer” to most people in America, it means asking for things, or perhaps meditating, but not offering something.
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