|WHAT THE PRAYER BOOK GAVE
TO THE JEW
by Albert S. Goldstein, Temple Bulletin
|The Greek word for prayer means "to wish for." The German word for prayer means "to beg." The English word means "to entreat, implore, ask, earnestly or, supplicate, beg." The Hebrew word is t'phila. Its root is pallal which means "to judge." The act of praying in Hebrew is hitpallel, the reflexive form of the verb; it means "to judge oneself." It signifies self-examination, an inquiry into the state of one's soul, to make it ready for communication with G-d.
With reference to prayer, primitive minds regard themselves as serfs, and G-d as "the L-rd of the manor," to Whom one must constantly go begging for favors; flattering, cajoling, wheedling; obsequiously fawning -- this is pagan prayer.
Jews look upon G-d as their Father and friend, in Whose presence it is a delight to sit, with Whom it is glorious and wonderful to converse. Whether as Father or as friend it were unseemly only to come into His presence to ask for something, begging.
Shneur Zalman of Liadi expressed the Jewish view when he interrupted his recitation of the set prayers in his siddur to say to
G-d: "I do not want Your paradise. I do not want Your coming world. I want You and only You." This ecstatic exclamation is not written in any Jewish prayer book, but it is the inevitable response of a soul sensitized by constant reading of this prayer book, a reading that is not only of the eyes and the lips and vocal cords, but of the heart, of the soul itself.
Whenever Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev came to a certain passage of the liturgy he paused to talk with G-d thus: "L-rd of the universe. I do not beg You to reveal to me the secret of Your ways. I could not bear it: the burden of this knowledge. But show me one thing, show it to me more clearly and more deeply, show me what this which is happening to me at this very moment means to me, what it demands of me. What You, O L-rd of the world, are telling me by way of it. Ah, it is not why I suffer that
I wish to know, but only whether I suffer for Your sake."
It was the frequent, almost constant use of his prayer book and the inspiration he not only got from it, but the inspiration he brought to it, that gave Levi Yitzhak and the host of pious Jews that enjoyed this same spiritual exercize in days that were less fortunate and materially less prosperous than ours -- gave them this sense of a world drenched in divine light, shimmering and
holy with the grace and the beauty of the L-rd.