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Prayer’s Essence

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According to many opinions, the most minimal prayer format one should recite daily should consist of praise of God, a request of God and a thank you to God. Thus for instance, a mother of triplets might say: “God, You are the giver of blessings. God, please give me patience. God, thank you for creating coffee.”

The 13th century Sefer Hachinuch connects the commandment to pray to God with the verse: “You shall fear the Lord your God; Him shall you serve; and to Him shall you cleave, and by His name shall you swear” (Deuteronomy 10:20). Although this verse refers to prayer when it states “Him shall you serve” (serve being a translation of avodah) the language of the rest of the verse can be seen to reflect the three elements of Jewish prayer:

1) You shall fear… The translation of the Hebrew word yirah as fear changes the true meaning of the word. The concept of yirah when used in connection with God is more accurately translated as “to be in awe.” The awareness of the Divine power and Divine mercy, the face of Divine awesomeness, leads one to praise God.

2) Him shall you cleave to…Cleaving is the act of drawing close to something. When a person turns to God with his/her requests, both large and small, this is an act of drawing oneself closer to God.

3) By His name shall you swear…Although swearing, in general, is prohibited in the Torah because it is very likely that one will not fulfill one’s vow, swearing by any name other than God implies a recognition of its power. This is the purpose of the prayers of gratitude. When a person thanks God for all aspects of his/her life, it serves as an acknowledgement that all things in one’s life come exclusively from God and no other power.

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