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by Boruch Ellison
Whenever one has a need, be it physical (health, money, children, etc.)
or spiritual (happiness, overcoming temptation, etc.), one must always pray to
In addition to the above, one should pray at least once every day. Prayer is to the soul as food is to the body: It keeps the soul alive and well, and strengthens it for the day ahead. Just as we would generally not skip eating food, we also should not skip prayer on any day. This applies even if one does not feel "inspired" to pray—in fact, it applies especially if one does not feel like praying. Prayer is the cause, not the result, of feeling our spiritual essence. If we wait for the right "feeling," we starve ourselves of much-needed spiritual energy. When prayer feels like work, we know it is succeeding.
Thc best time to pray is first thing in the morning, after waking up and getting dressed, but before going to work or conducting any business. G-d is our true Employer, and should be acknowledged before we go work for our human "employers," who are merely G-d's vessels through whom He provides our sustenance. Furthermore, prayer is like a "call to duty" in the morning, which energizes us and gives a spiritual focus to get the day off to a proper start.
Before starting prayer, one should give at least a coin (perhaps a dime or a quarter) for tzedaka ("charity," loosely translated from Hebrew). The coin should be set aside, for example, placed in a can or box with a slit on top, specifically reserved to be given to the poor or to Torah study programs. If in doubt, one can always give the money to an orthodox rabbi at a synagogue or yeshiva; he will put the money to proper use. By giving tzedaka we show undeserved mercy toward others; in return, G-d shows undeserved mercy toward us. No matter how many good deeds we perform, we should never assume we have enough merit to deserve G-d's blessings. We should always ask for G-d's mercy, above and beyond anything we might deserve, and He will respond.
Prayer should be given in an atmosphere of the fear of G-d, in conditions of modesty. One should be fully dressed (men should preferably wear a head covering, even if only a baseball cap). Prayer should never be given in a bathroom or other disrespectful place, and the doors to any nearby bathrooms should be closed. Men should not see women during prayer, for they must not be distracted from paying undivided attention only to G-d; in synagogues, Jewish men and women are separated by a divider into two sections (women also should not lead group prayers that include men, as their voices can have the same distracting effect). Unless otherwise impossible, the prayer should be given indoors, facing a wall with no mirrors, pictures, or other potentially idolatrous images; it goes without saying that one should never pray towards a statue of any kind (some seemingly innocent statues and figurines are considered idolatrous by Torah, and one must learn the rules to avoid accidentally owning idols or their equivalents). Christian crosses, of course, are absolutely out of the question.
Prayer is accomplished through speech, which is an action and therefore a good deed, rather than mere thought. Spiritual thoughts are always nice, but unless they become physical, they have not fulfilled G-d's will. Indeed, it is better to pray the words with one's lips, while the mind is distracted elsewhere, than to think about the prayers without saying them. Even a prayer without proper mental attention has a positive effect, although prayer gains tremendous power when the thoughts participate as well. The prayer should always be spoken (i.e., whispered or in a low voice) loudly enough for the person to hear himself, but not always loudly enough to distract others praying nearby. In other words, the most important act is for the lips to move, regardless of how loud or quiet the speech is. Only a person who leads a group in prayer should speak loudly, so that all may hear and keep up.
Prayer should be directed, in our speech and thoughts, only toward G-d directly. The prayer should never be addressed to any "intermediary," nor should it end with in the name of...." When we pray through any intermediary, G-d stops listening to our prayers; by praying directly to G-d, we remove the main obstacle between us and the Creator Who sustains us and breathes life into us every single moment. G-d is always available and ready to listen, as long as we are ready to speak with Him—and with Him alone. As G-d states in His Bible," Before Me no god was formed, nor will there be any after Me. I, only I am Hashem, and besides Me there is no savior" (Isaiah 43:10-11).
At least in one's thoughts, one's prayers should he directed towards the location of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Although G-d is "everywhere" (in fact, He is even above the very concepts of space and time), His holiness—even today, when no Temple stands on the spot—is most revealed at the Temple site. Some people prefer actually to face toward the Temple, as is the manner of Jews (in the United States, this means facing east); in any case, one should think of his prayers being heard at the Temple site.
King Solomon, who built the first Temple, asked in his dedication prayer, "And may You listen to the prayer of your servant and your people Israel who pray toward this place" (I Kings 8:30), and regarding Hasidic Gentiles he asked G-d, "And also, regarding the foreigner who is not of your people Israel, and who comes from a far-off land because of Your name... and he comes to pray toward this house:
"Listen in the heavens, your dwelling place, and respond to everything the foreigner calls to You for, so that all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and fear You, like your people Israel" (I Kings 8:41-43).
The content of prayer is particularly important. When one addresses the infinitely grand and majestic King, one must not be disrespectful or come only to make demands. Prayer is not just for our needs; it is an important way to serve G-d, for He made the Creation so that it would ultimately reveal and praise Him. Looking throughout the Bible, we find certain common elements in the prayers of such righteous leaders as Moses, Hanah (the mother of Samuel the prophet), King David, King Solomon, Daniel the prophet, and so forth. Based on such examples, the Jewish prayers contain three elements, in this order: (1) Praise (acknowledging G-d's greatness as, for example, revealed through Creation, and thanking G-d for His past blessings on us), (2) requests (asking for our spiritual and physical needs, all to help us to serve Him), and (3) confession (admitting our sins and mistakes, and asking G-d's forgiveness). It is also helpful to ask, not just for one's individual needs, but also for the needs of one's family, community, nation, and even the entire world. All these elements make prayer vastly more effective.
Since we are not spiritual giants like the tzaddikim (righteous leaders) of Biblical times, we do not know how to word our own prayers properly. Therefore, it is important to read our prayers from written texts, word for word. Our thoughts bring the proper meanings to these words, making any prayer apply to our unique circumstances and needs.
The Psalms—all 150 of them—are holy prayers formulated for all possible needs; the words are Divinely inspired. Indeed, the Jewish prayers are largely composed of Psalms, while the holiest parts of the prayers are indirectly based on the Psalms. Therefore, we are strongly recommending that people everywhere adopt the saying of Psalms as the main part of prayer, at least until a complete, carefully-formulated prayer book can be finished.
In addition to the regular prayers, many Jews have the custom of reciting additional Psalms each day. For now, we are recommending that non-Jews say the Psalms on this same schedule, in synchrony with the Jewish people, in which the 150 Psalms are divided over the 29 or 30 days of each month on the Hebrew calendar. On the first day of each new Hebrew month, we say Psalms 1-9; on the second day, Psalms 10-17; and so forth. The schedule is listed below.
If one knows Hebrew, it is certainly good to read the Psalms (or any prayers) in the holy language. But all prayers, including the Psalms, may be said in any language (it is best to use a good Jewish translation; Christian translators have deliberately altered or twisted certain interpretations to fit New Testament doctrines). Simply recite the Psalms as they are, without adding anything before or after.
(Note: Please see the attached Western/Hebrew monthly calendar. It shows the corresponding day of the Hebrew month for each "Western calendar" day. The Hebrew months, starting with Rosh Hashanah, the New Year—usually some time in September—are as follows: Tishrei, Heshvan, Kislev, Teves, Shvat, Adar, Nisan, lyar, Sivan, Tamuz, Av, Elul. The Hebrew dates change each year with respect to the Western calendar, so always keep up with the latest Hebrew calendar.)
It is also a good custom to recite daily the Psalm that corresponds to one's age. This is according to the year of a person's life; a 25-year-old is in his 26th year, so he would say Psalm 26—until his 26th birthday, when he starts saying Psalm 27 (i.e,, the Psalm should always be one more than the person's age).
There is at least one other important time to pray: At meals. For Jews, there is a Biblical commandment (Deuteronomy 8:10) to pray after a meal, rather than before, since it is easier to forget to thank G-d after one has already been satisfied with food. One should make a special effort to pray after every meal, while still sitting at one's place at the table. Non-Jews may say Psalm 104 and/or Psalm 145, or the first paragraph of the Jewish "grace after meals."
For special occasions, other Psalms may be added to the daily prayers. Some Psalms are added on particular Jewish holidays; others are added to ask for the full recovery of a sick person. Each such occasion is connected with specific Psalms, and one should check proper Jewish sources to identify them.
Daily morning prayer
I) Start with Psalm 145
2) Then say the following two verses, the first loud enough to hear yourself, the second quietly:
"Hear, O Yisrael, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One."*
"Blessed is the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever."
Note: While reciting these two verses, have in mind that (a) G-d is the absolute, infinite One, and the only true existence, (b) by saying these verses, you are crowning G-d as King over you, and (c) G-d is King over the entire creation, spiritual and physical—including all space and time—over which He alone rules.
3) Then continue with the Psalms daily schedule as follows:
|Hebrew date||Psalms||Hebrew date||Psalms|
Note: When the Hebrew month has only 29 days, the Psalms for days 29 and 30 are combined on the 29th day.
Special "Hallel" (holiday prayer of praise)
Psalms 47, 67, 96, 98, 117, and 148
Recited each morning, in addition to daily prayers, on each day of the following holidays:
Sukkos (7 days, from Tishrei 15 through Tishrei 21)
Hanukah (8 days, from Kislev 25 through Teves 2/3)
Pesach (8 days, from Nisan 15 through Nisan 22)
Shavuos (2 days, from Sivan 6 through Sivan 7)
Prayers for the sick
After the daily prayers, add on Psalm 20, plus choose any of the following:
Psalms 6, 9, 13, 16, 17,18, 22, 23, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 37, 38, 39, 41, 49, 55, 56, 69, 86, 88, 89, 90, 91, 102, 103, 104, 107, 116, 118, 142, 143, 148
Psalm 20 is most important; one may follow with as many of these other Psalms as desired (the more the better). They should be recited every day until the person has recovered.
Grace after meals
After a full meal
Recite Psalm 67, followed by one of these:
1) Psalm 104; or
2) Psalm 145; or
3) The first paragraph of the Jewish "grace after meals," as follows:
"Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, the One Who feeds the
entire world in His goodness; with grace, kindness, and mercy He gives bread to
all flesh, for His kindness is eternal. And with His great goodness that is
with us constantly, food is not lacking for us, nor should it be lacking for
us, forever and ever. It is for the sake of His great Name, for
He—G-d—feeds and nourishes all, and does good to all, and prepares
food for all His creations that He has made, as it is said, 'You open Your hand
and satisfy the desire of all life.'* Blessed are You, L-rd, the One Who feeds
After a snack
Say the following blessing:
"Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates many souls and their needs, for all that You have created with which to give life to the soul of every living thing. Blessed is the Life of the worlds."
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Copyright (C) 2000 by Bryan J. Ellison
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