Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 5 March 2016 / 25 Adar I 5776

"Silent" Prayer

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“When praying, one should not pray only in his heart.” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 101:2)

The Kaf Hachaim writes that according to many poskim, if one were to pray only in his heart without saying the words, he does not fulfill his obligation of prayer since thought is not considered as speech regarding prayer. (Magen Avraham; Eliyah Rabbah; Shulchan Aruch Harav and Rabbi Chaim Vital)

This ruling finds support in the Zohar in Parshat Ha’azinu 294. It is written there, “All prayers and requests that one makes before G-d must be said by moving one’s lips, and if one does not do so it is considered as though he did not pray or make a request.” The Zohar goes on to explain the great effect one’s prayers have when said, rising above into the spiritual worlds and becoming a holy crown for Gd.

It would seem that this ruling applies to the rabbinical obligation to pray, which was instituted in place of the sacrifices offered in the Beit Hamikdash. However, regarding optional prayers and requests, it is possible that one’s thoughts can count, since Gd is certainly aware of one’s thoughts, as it is written, “He fashions their hearts all together, He comprehends their deeds”. (Tehillim 13:15)

This is in fact the law regarding someone sick and unable to say the words of prayer. The Rema writes (Orach Chaim 94:6) that one who is sick and unable to actually pray should pray in his heart. This ruling is supported by the verse, “They said in their hearts while lying in their beds”. (Orchot Chaim in the name of Pesikta, brought in the Beit Yosef 101)

We also find explained by the B’nei Yissachar that when a person is unable to pray, yet he cries out to Gd in his heart without making a sound, he can still be rewarded as if he prayed, since Gd is aware of what is in his heart. This idea is based on the episode when the Jewish slaves in Egypt cried out to G-d. He explains that the cries of the Jewish People were made in their hearts, without actually praying aloud. Here are the verses together with the comments of the B’nei Yissachar:

“The Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out in their hearts… G-d heard their moaning i.e., their broken hearts, and G-d remembered His covenant… — G-d saw the Children of Israel, and G-d knew that they wanted to actually pray and request His help, but as a result of the extremely harsh exile their spirits were broken and they were not able to do so. G-d therefore considered the suffering and cries of their hearts as if they had prayed.” (Chodesh Nissan, discourse 5, section 15)

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