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Is it a Mitzvah (commandment) to pray?

by Rabbi Shais Taub

  

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The Short Answer:

Yes.

The Askmoses Answer:

Essential Prayer 

The Torah tells us,1 "You shall serve the L-rd, your G-d,” and2 “You shall serve Him with all your heart.”  Clearly we are being commanded something here, but what exactly are we being told to do.  What does it mean to “serve” G-d, and how does one do this with all of one’s heart? 

The Talmud3 tells us that to serve G-d with your heart means, just like it says, to open your heart to G-d and turn to Him in prayer.  Prayer here doesn’t mean reading words from a book or standing and sitting at certain paragraphs.  It means to speak to G-d and let your deepest feelings come forth.  It means telling Him whatever is on your mind, to praise Him and to ask Him for your needs.

Prayer here doesn't mean reading words from a book or standing and sitting at certain paragraphs
Thus, to fulfill the Biblical commandment of prayer, one need not say certain words at certain times, but rather, at some point every day – or many times a day if one wishes – to turn to G-d and connect to Him on a personal level.  That is the Mitzvah of prayer.

And so it was in ancient times – from the days of Moses through the First Temple Era – Jews would fulfill the Biblical commandment of prayer in exactly this way. However, after the Jews were exiled to Babylon, the general population lost the art of arranging meaningful prayers on their own. Their once pure Hebrew with which they could describe the loftiest of holy concepts became muddied and the common Jew was no longer able to compose eloquent praises or supplications.

Standardized Prayer

Thus, Ezra the Scribe and his court composed a standard text for every Jew.  By using this script which includes in it general references to all matters one might wish to discuss with G-d, everyone would be sure to address G-d as articulately as possible.  Each Jew’s personal signature, so to speak, would be in the feelings aroused in the heart during prayer. 

Ezra and his court also enacted that Jews should pray at set times.  Today one prays three times every day -- morning, afternoon and evening -- and four times on Shabbat, Biblical Holidays and Rosh Chodesh.  Nevertheless, if one feels like speaking to G-d at any other time, one may and should do so as well. Indeed, that is the actual mitzvah from the Torah; that’s what it means to serve G-d with the heart. 

Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 23:25.
  • 2. Deuteronomy 11:13.
  • 3. Taanit 2b.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Prayer » About

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
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.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Maimonides
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Shofar
The horn of a Kosher animal. The Shofar is sounded on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and is intended to awaken us to repentance. Also blown to signify the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Rosh Chodesh
The "Head of the Month," Rosh Chodesh is observed the first day of every Jewish month. If the previous month had 30 days, then the last day of the previous month is also observed; hence a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is a semi-holiday, marked by Torah-reading and special prayers.
Ezra
1. A Hebrew priest and scribe, who, together with Nehemiah, revived Judaism in the 4th century BCE. He was instrumental in the building of the 2nd Temple. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which describes the events of Ezra's lifetime.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
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.