How do we relate to prayer? Is it something only children do at bedtime? Is prayer reserved for services in synagogue? Why do we pray? Should we pray? Why is prayer considered one of the fundamental pillars of Judaism? Many questions.
Let us look at this week’s parasha and try and derive some answers. In this week’s parasha vayishlach, we find Yaakov one of our forefathers receiving the news that his wicked brother Esav is planning to arrive with 400 of his men. We see in Rashi that Yaakov has three choices: to appease him by sending gifts, to fight or to pray. We see that Yaakov chose to prepare for war then to pray and then sending gifts. It does seem very surprising that Yaakov would not immediately turn to G-D first after being as highly connected to G-D as he
was. A familiar story where the Jews did turn to G-D first was the splitting of the red sea. They prayed and the sea dramatically split. And by this example we understand what prayer is all about. Belief in our power of prayer is also the belief in our responsibility to make the effort. I feel prayer is a time when it’s just you and G-D. Nothing else should be on your mind. Be as serious as possible when talking to the king of the world. I would also like to stress the point which is prayer doesn’t have to be in the synagogue. If you can’t get to shul for whatever reason, G-D is still listening when you’re at home. Many people make the misconception of saying they have to get to shul when all they do at shul is talk and mess.
Another point I would like to stress is you don’t have to pray in Hebrew. It should be in a language you feel comfortable with and that you understand. Praying with concentration (cavanah) is also essential as I once heard praying without meaning and cavanah is as if you have not prayed at all. G-D doesn’t need our prayers, we do. Through prayer, we come close to G-D and really talk to him about anything. Nothing is too much and nothing is too little. We aren’t bothering him, he is always there listening. Sometimes the answer is Yes and sometimes No. When no, we should ask ourselves, what is the message from this? And keep asking. We should praise G-D and thank him for everything he gives us. We should ask about things for our own lives and the lives of others. But we must never forget the lesson of Yaakov. As important as prayer is, we need to make efforts in our own lives and know that G-D is always there watching over and protecting us.