Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 16 November 2013 / 13 Kislev 5774

The Dilemma of Organized Prayer

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

As early as the time between the First and Second Temples(400 BCE and 300 BCE), organized prayer, which is of rabbinical origin, was established by “The Men of The Great Assembly.”

The Sages of the generation that preceded the destruction of the Temple saw with ruach hakodesh (a level of Divine communication) that the approaching exile would last for a long time, and that something was desperately needed to fill the void of the soon-to-be-destroyed Temple.

And so, they organized a set text of prayer to be said three times daily, corresponding to the offerings of the Temple service of yore. Just as the Temple service helped sustain the world by drawing down both spiritual and physical benefits into this world, prayer, which stands in its place, has a similar effect in helping to sustain this world as well as the spiritual worlds above.

The Men of the Great Assembly formulated the basic structure and text of prayer according to the hidden esoteric wisdom of Kabbalah, thereby enabling every letter and word uttered by all Jews to contain the requisite components to draw down Divine flow from Above. They provided each individual with his own “ladder” with which his prayers could ascend to Heaven. All that was necessary was for all Jews to follow their directive.

Although this innovation solved a great problem, it presented a new hurdle that we still face today.

It is generally difficult to utter, with true intent and feeling, words that are not one’s own, especially when these same words are repeated three times a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately, due to the predetermined formula of the prayers, a great number of people disengage from the true purpose of prayer; namely, the service of the heart.

We have come to the timeless dilemma of organized prayer. One’s own words aren't enough, and the words provided for us lack a soul. What are we to do!

One must study, to the best of his ability, to internalize the true meaning of the holy words of prayer. This can also be done in English if necessary. Then, when praying, one will be able to utter the prayers as if they were one's own words. This will help to restore the true service of prayer, allowing the holy words of the Sages to be uttered with full concentration and meaning. Our job is to give the “magical” words of the Sages a soul, making them come alive as they leave our lips and ascend Heavenward. In fact, the Zohar explains that the actual words and letters of the prayers themselves ascend to Heaven.

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