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Why do we all use the same "impersonal" words for prayer?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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The Torah1 instructs you to serve G-d with “all your hearts”. Our Sages explain this commandment as follows: a person must pray, pour out his heart, to G-d (when he finds himself in distress).2

Originally, everyone offered personal prayers employing their own words, creating personalized prayer. However, after the Jews were exiled to Babylon, the general population lost the art of arranging meaningful prayers on their own. Eventually, the Men of the Great Assembly instituted uniform prayer for all Jews, creating the basic text of the prayer book which is used to this very day.

But can a person’s relationship with his Creator be scripted? Is it possible to dictate the feelings one should be expressing to G-d?

The challenge we have is to create a personal prayer filled with personal feelings and sentiments, using the same words as the person sitting next to us in the synagogue
In the teachings of Chassidut, words are considered to be “vessels”—vessels for the feelings and thoughts which spawned them. Two people can say the exact same words, words which seemingly express the same sentiment, but only the “vessel” is the same, the emotions behind the words can be worlds apart. Two people can tell their spouse, “I love you,” does that mean that their love is the same, in either quantity or quality? Obviously not.

We live in a world which is obsessed with external trappings. Everything is judged by its most revealed dimension, while the essence goes unnoticed. For example, all too often uniqueness is expressed through a nose-ring or sports car, not through emphasizing character and wisdom. Sometimes it is necessary to have two items which are externally alike in order to appreciate the profound difference between the two.

The challenge we have is to create a personal prayer filled with personal feelings and sentiments, using the same words as the person sitting next to us in the synagogue. This means truly immersing oneself in the prayer, for if the vessels are empty, if the words lack a backing of feelings and concentration, then the prayer which is being offered is actually no different than the prayer of every other John Doe.

And G-d loves unique prayers...

Footnotes

  • 1. Deuteronomy 10:12; 11:13
  • 2. According to some scholars this commandment only applies when you have a need. According to others this commandment is applicable daily, regardless of your needs.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Prayer » I'd love to pray, but...

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Chassidut
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Men of the Great Assembly
An institution of 120 rabbis who led the Jewish people at the onset of the Second Temple Era. They canonized the 24 books of the Bible and composed most of the prayers we have today. This institution lasted approximately 200 years.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.