Lesson 1: Out of the Foxhole: A New Paradigm for Prayer
We have degrees to earn, bills to pay, and diapers to change. Amid the rapids of life, many feel that prayer simply does not earn itself a timeslot. Others find speaking to an unseen being too ethereal for realistic consideration. Some have it all, and see no need for appeals to the heavens. Others need and believe, but are bored or turned-off by the liturgy, the congregational elements, or the ritualistic nuances of formal prayers; they simply do not find it meaningful.
This lesson explores the ultimate purpose of prayer, which is to foster a deep and meaningful connection with G-d, and it demonstrates the ways in which prayer facilitates this remarkable goal. Prayer emerges as beneficial for all people—spiritual seekers or otherwise, and those with or without particular requests. The lesson also provides tips on personalizing the liturgy for a deeper, more meaningful experience.
LESSON 2: G-d’s Plans & Mans Demands: Understanding the Mechanics of Petition
Prayer is commonly seen as synonymous with petitioning G-d for things we need or desire. This raises a storm of questions: If we believe that G-d determines precisely what we should have, is it not insolent or heretical to ask G-d for something different? And why should G-d pay attention to our appeals for alterations to the divine plan? Do we even have the power to influence that plan?
This lesson dives into the illuminating wisdom of Jewish mysticism to discover how prayer works. It delineates a complex process through which G-d interacts with the world and its inhabitants—including a method of overriding that system to influence its practical outcome. Key to this endeavor is praying with the appropriate approach and frame of mind, which are also explored in this lesson. In addition, we discover that the apparently self-serving act of praying for our needs is pivotal to fostering an intimate relationship with G-d.
LESSON 3: It’s All Hebrew To Me: Making Sense of Liturgy, One Step At a Time
Stereotypically, Jews lovingly open a prayer book and instantly sway into the heavens—words flowing, emotions soaring, faces radiant and relaxed. In reality, many stare in dismay at a confusing jumble of verses without detecting rhyme or reason to the structure of the prayers. Some do not bother to open it to begin with, preferring to be guided by their
own hearts rather than one-size-fits-all printed texts. This lesson explores the history, function, structure, and goals of the Jewish prayer book. Viewed as a critical tool in building a relationship with G-d, the prayer book must bow to the dynamics of any genuine relationship: It demands time and patience, and unavoidably, the process is gradual. It is structured as a ladder, leading from distant to close, from distracted to united, and from hard ground to the soft outpouring of the soul. The prayer book is designed as a step-by-step guide to real conversation and genuine bonding with G-d. This lesson discusses the first two steps of this process, and offers a fresh appreciation of the world around us.
LESSON 4: Hear O Israel: Achieving True Transcendence in Prayer
There are moments when spontaneous wonder evokes a sense of connection with G-d. It may be the birth of a child, a splendid sunrise, a landscape, or the intricate marvels of G-d’s world unveiled by modern science. All of these, however, are akin to grasping at G-d’s hand that is present within the confines of our universe. But is G-d not greater than
the universe? Is there not more to G-d than His voluntary service as the Creator? And if we assume that G-d is infinitely beyond Creation, can a miniscule mortal dare to claim a meaningful relationship with G-d?
This lesson transforms these questions into a springboard into the heart of the next stage of Jewish prayers, climbing beyond G-d-the-Creator to explore deeper aspects of G-d’s Self. The tool for this heightened awareness is the celebrated Shema prayer and its preparatory liturgy. We ponder the concept of a G-d who utterly transcends the universe
while paradoxically remaining intimately involved and accessible. The lesson’s profound insights empower our relationship with G-d with new
understanding and enthusiasm, inspiring us to venture beyond the confines of our own inner universes.
LESSON 5: Standing in Silence: Synthesizing Divinity and Materiality in the Amida
It is widely assumed that we must choose between spirituality and self-refinement, and swimming further into a murky sea of materialism. If we choose the more ascetic option, then a brief examination of our prayer book is a cause for dismay; it contains bewildering dissonance: Prayer is supposed to foster spiritual refinement and a soulful bond with the Divine. But our prayers are replete with pleading for materialistic needs—money, health, success, and the like. The paradox seems inescapable.
This lesson examines the frontlines of the dissonance: the extensive Amidah prayer. The Amidah sits squarely at the pinnacle of the service,
representing the peak of angelic holiness—the ultimate connection point with G-d. Its content, conversely, reads like a list of material demands.
The lesson compels us to reconsider all we knew or assumed about the relationship between spirituality, G-d, and our tangible needs. This seeming contradiction gives way to a brilliant appreciation of prayer, G-d, and our purpose on planet Earth.
LESSON 6: Communities That Pray Together: Finding Meaning in Communal Prayer
It may be thrice daily or twice annually. Often, depending on how frequently a Jewish individual prays, so are the number of visits to a synagogue.
Judaism’s prioritization of communal prayer is perplexing: If prayer is to provide individual hearts and souls with a voice to communicate personally to G-d, to facilitate contemplation and reflection, to enhance the ability to sense G-d’s presence in our personal lives, and to advance a relationship with the Divine, then private settings seem more appropriate than clustered halls.
This lesson scrutinizes the function of communal prayer, identifying critical elements missing from praying solo, thus making group praying indispensable to achieving our ultimate goals in prayer. It also examines practical approaches for balancing the profoundly personal aspects of
prayer with the critical communal elements, allowing a worshipper the best of both approaches.