The Purpose of Prayer

by | in Letters

I was quite disturbed by the message conveyed in the article “How Was Your Davening?” (fall 2012). The author states that the only criterion by which to rate his davening is to see whether or not his prayers were answered. This is a gross misunderstanding of the purpose of our davening.

We do not provide a laundry list of requests to God, and then sit back to see if we receive them. The purpose of davening is to improve our relationship with the Borei Olam and to grow spiritually. On Rosh Hashanah especially, the davening is not about requests. It is about declaring God to be our King. Of course we ask Him to provide us with our needs in order to serve Him properly, but emunah implies having faith that God alone knows what is best for us. If He does not “do as we ask,” then we must believe that what we asked for wasn’t in our best interests.

Donna Keilson
Lawrence, New York

Steve Lipman Responds
I did not mean to convey the idea that tefillah, at any time but especially during the Days of Awe, is merely a shopping list of what we want from God. I did try to stress that evaluating one’s davening can only take place at the year’s end, the following Rosh Hashanah, when one can look back and see if one’s prayers led to any significant changes. Tefillah is primarily an internal process, whereby one is forced to confront the self. Thus, to evaluate if one’s tefillot were successful, one must ask: Am I different person than I was a year ago? Did I become a better person—a better spouse, parent or friend—over the past year? Did I improve my middot? This is, of course, a subjective, internal process.

A more objective, admittedly external, way of evaluating one’s davening is to see if God granted any of the requests asked of Him. If God responded “no” to every single request, then perhaps one is doing something wrong.

This article was featured in Jewish Action Winter 2012 .

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