Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 8 February 2014 / 8 Adar I 5774

Prayer Fundamentals - Part 2

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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I believe with complete faith that there exists a first Being, without beginning or end, who created and sustains all things, and that this Being alone is our G-d. (Thirteen Principles of Faith)

It is impossible to pray to G-d unless one first accepts that He in fact exists — otherwise one would be merely talking to himself. Now, since only an insane person talks to himself, it is clear that one’s prayers are directed to G-d.

A Story

Harold, a middle aged man, originally from a Jewish shtetel (town), had drifted far from the path of Judaism. He had no regrets. To him religion was never about G-d; it was nothing more than a social club bringing people together for meals and a boring stage performance called prayer.

Although as a child Harold knew most of the prayers by heart, he had never uttered one word to G-d. They were just empty words he was obligated to say each day. He, along with the other boys, would race through the prayers and then run out to play. Their motto was: “The faster the prayers, the more time to play!”

Harold had by now become agnostic and was considering for financial and social reasons to change his name, severing all ties to his Jewish past. However, being a man of principle, he felt uncomfortable abandoning Judaism forever. He reasoned that since he was just a teenager when he originally strayed from the path, he never really gave G-d a fair chance. “Maybe there was some truth behind all of the odd rituals,” he thought to himself.

Although Harold’s memories of synagogue were gloomy, to say the least, he decided to visit one this last time. He resolved in his heart that if G-d would send a sign that He really existed, he would commit the rest of his days to serving Him.

Without realizing it, he chose to visit a Chassidic shul. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. As he entered the sanctuary he saw all of the men engrossed in their prayers. All in white, they seemed as angels. Overcome with a feeling of awe he took a prayer book and began to recite the prayers he remembered from his childhood, but this time it was different. For the first time he was saying them to G-d. A feeling of security suddenly came over him as he began to cry.

Years later, when relating the story of how he returned to the faith, he described those precious moments in that heavenly shul. With his body trembling, as if standing again amidst all those Chassidim, he said: “In that shul you didn’t have to believe that G-d exists — you felt it”.

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