Jewish Prayer & Modern Thought

Praying With body & soul.

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-- Dr. James Kugel is Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University and Professor of Bible at Bar Ilan University. Reprinted with the author's permission from On Being a Jew, published by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Prayer is a Drawing Near of Human to Divine, and, We Hope, of Divine to Human

Prayer is not a soliloquy. But is it a dialogue with God? Does man address Him as person to person? It is incorrect to describe prayer by analogy with human conversation; we do not communicate with God. We only make ourselves communicable to Him. Prayer is an emanation of what is most precious in us toward Him, the outpouring of the heart before Him. It is not a relationship between person and person, between subject and subject, but an endeavor to become the object of His thought.

Prayer is like the light from a burning glass in which all the rays that emanate from the soul are gathered to a focus. There are hours when we are resplendent with the glowing awareness of our share in His secret interests on earth. We pray. We are carried forward to Him who is coming close to us. We endeavor to divine His will, not merely His command.

Prayer is an answer to God: "Here am I. And this is the record of my days. Look in to my heart, into my hopes and my regrets." We depart in shame and joy. Yet prayer never ends, for faith endows us with a bold craving that He draw near to us and approach us as a father--not only as a ruler; not only through our walking in His ways, but through His entering into our ways.

The purpose of prayer is to be brought to His attention, to be listened to, to be understood by Him; not to know Him but to be known to Him. To pray is to behold life not only as a result of His power, but as a concern of His will, or to strive to make our life a divine concern. For the ultimate aspiration of man is not be a master, but an object of His knowledge. To live "in the light of His countenance," to become a thought of God--this is the true career of man.

--Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Ph.D. (1907-1972), born in Warsaw and educated in Poland and Germany, was Professor of Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Reprinted with permission from Man's Quest for God.


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