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Forms of Prayer Introduction

This series of essays is dedicated in honor of Louis Fridkis of Santa Monica, CA who has challenged me in the most wonderful and productive ways. Thank You.


Introduction: Forms of Prayer



The Lord High Executioner in the Mikado understands in no uncertain terms that the punishment must fit the crime. He seems to understand a concept that most of us miss; there must be a correspondence between one thing and another. God relates to us Midah K’Neged Midah – Measure for Measure. God drowned the Egyptians who had drowned the Jewish babies. God established a system that “B’midah sh’adam modaid, kach modidin lo” – God deals with a person with exactly the same measure that the person deals with others. God is generous to the openhanded and sting to the miserly. It seems logical that the music must correspond to the words. Why would we possibly sing a joyous psalm to a funeral dirge? But, we do, all the time. People cry when reciting the 121st Psalm that is actually a celebration of God’s involvement and power. I often have to sit through Shabbat Morning services with someone singing “Kail Adon” – The Power Who Is Master – a song celebrating God’s majesty, to a slow mournful tune or to a ditty that definitely do not match the message of the words.

There are mournful prayers, joyful prayers, inspired prayers, thoughtful prayers and more. There are at least ten forms of prayer, 13 according to one Midrash. (Yalkut Shimoni, VaEtchanan) I would like to dedicate a series of articles to the different forms of prayer.

There are a few ideas that are fundamental to prayer that are important to review before we address the Forms of Prayer. I urge you to look in i-Pray – Skills to review the General Principles of Prayer.

I. Work

The second creation story contains a powerful lesson about the role of human beings. Rashi explains that nothing could grow because there was no person to “work” the land, meaning, there was no one to pray for rain, the expression of God’s continued involvement in His creation. Rashi defines this first mention of human work, “Avodah” as prayer. Prayer is work. Prayer is a skill, or more accurately, skilled work, and it demands study and awareness. It does not only mean service, because the verse is clear that there was no person to work the land. The Avodah – Work – is in relation to the ground, not to God. Prayer defines the way we relate to the world. It shapes our relationship to everything and everyone else.

II. Giving Voice

We speak differently to different people and in various situations. We would not speak to an adult the way we speak to a baby. We speak to our friends differently than we speak with our children. We change the volume of our words when we are angry or sad. We can speak with authority or with humility.

We also speak with more than words. Our hands speak volumes, as do our eyes and facial expressions. The way we hand money to a beggar speaks volumes about us. Our response to tragedy gives voice to our internal strength or weakness. We can communicate silently with someone we love or know well with just a glance.

Prayer is no different. Our words alone do not determine the power of a prayer. The cadence, intonation, internal volume and body language all shape and empower our prayer. There are prayers that must be recited only when standing and others only when sitting. There are proper and improper ways to hold our hands as we pray. There are prayers that must be sung with joy, and prayers that must be expressed as silent screams.

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