Prayer with Speech and Intention
The classical realms of physical existence are the inanimate objects, the vegetation, and the living animals. Torah teaches that the fourth and most important realm in the physical creation is that of mankind, which is referred to as “the speaker” – those who are gifted by God with the power of human speech and human communication. More so, this human ability is a reflection of the realm of Godliness that we refer to as God’s “speech,” and it reveals the unique connection between mankind and God.
When a person actualizes his power of speech, it serves to unify him, for it is the bridge between the conceptual and the practical dimensions of his existence. This is why spoken prayer connects the deeper parts of one’s soul (the inner thoughts and desires) to one’s external self, which is involved in the physical action of speaking. It is therefore very important that a person should say his prayers audibly before God, and not suffice with just the thoughts of his heart.
Concentration is needed as a preparation for prayer, in order to be ready to focus one’s thoughts on God, the Supreme King. Concentra-tion is also needed as a main part of the prayer itself, together with the verbalization. This means that during prayer, one should focus one’s thoughts to the point that they are unified with the words that he is speaking to God. This service of the heart is the essence of prayer, as we quoted in the previous chapter, from the sages of the Talmud: “What is this ‘service of the heart’? This is prayer.”
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The basics of prayer with concentration are twofold: one should position himself in prayer while focusing his mind and staying aware of (a) the One God before Whom he is praying, and (b) what he is praying for. To facilitate this, one should arrange his thoughts before he begins to pray, regarding the things about which he wants to supplicate and pour out his soul before God.
One should not pray while he is in a mood of frivolity, laughter, lightheadedness, hostility, or anger, nor interspersed with scoffing or idle talk. Instead, one should settle down quietly for a little while before prayer and concentrate until he can focus his mind and heart,and only then should he pray. About this, it is related that the early pious ones would tarry for one hour before beginning their prayers,179 in order to focus their hearts and thoughts, so they could connect all the faculties of their souls with God while praying to Him with humility.
A person should not pray while intoxicated, since one cannot concentrate properly in that condition. Likewise, if one finds that his thoughts are confused due to worries, and he is not able to concentrate, he should delay his pray until later.
Though it seems that the main point of prayer is for a person to ask for his physical needs, the true main purpose is actually to connect a person with his Creator. One is obligated to ask God for his physical necessities, such as food, livelihood and health, but an even more essential and basic need of every person is his constant connection with God. Therefore one should ask God for this need as well – that God will be with him constantly in all his ways, and that all his ways should be fitting for this. (This is a main theme in the Book of Psalms.)
Prayer is not only a means to ask for and receive this need. One must know that the prayer itself is a connection with God.
In conversation and prayer to God, one connects with Him, for God listens to everyone’s prayers to Him. He provides for each person’s needs in general, and especially this spiritual need for those who feel it and therefore desire that connection. This is the underlying meaning of the sages’ statement, “If only a person would pray all day,” because we should constantly have this need in the forefront of our minds. It follows that a person should not let his prayers become a rote chore (i.e., something habitual or coldhearted), but rather a heartfelt supplication before God. About this, the sage Rabbi Eliezer said, “One who makes his prayer into a fixed task – his prayer is not [considered proper] supplication.”
Therefore, a main part of prayer is the concentration one should have on the greatness of God and the Truth of His Existence, so that these principles will become set in the person’s heart, in all areas of his life.
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