Prayer can be difficult. Sometimes we know exactly what we want to say. Sometimes there are no words. And sometimes we don’t remember to pray until things go awry.
We obviously think we need help with praying. I searched the word “prayer” on Amazon and found over 60,000 entries, beginning with a C.S. Lewis book called simply “How to Pray.”
The Torah tries to make it easier; this week’s Torah portion provides a specific prayer to recite after a person has set aside a ten percent tithe. The pray-er must declare that he has “neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandments… I have obeyed the Lord my God; I have done just as You commanded me.” (Deut. 26:14).
And then? After assuring God that she’s done as commanded, the person audaciously commands God: “Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers.”
The Torah doesn’t tell us to ask, doesn’t include the word “please” in the prayer. Instead, we can simply tell God to bestow blessings upon us, with full confidence in our right to do so.
In fact, we have every right to demand blessings, and to make sure God gets the point the prayer ends with a stern reminder: “Keep Your promise to our ancestors!”
But the blessing is not for oneself alone. Notice the change in pronouns? The first verse is in the first person singular, praying on one’s own behalf. The second is plural. In other words, the Torah is teaching us to pray for blessings on behalf of the entire community, not only ourselves.
And this, I believe, is one of the essential purposes of prayer; to be in relationship with the Divine both as an individual and as part of something larger. To be able to confidently tell God that you’re doing your best to be a good person, and confidently tell God that you and everyone else needs God’s blessings.
When we pray in community and when we pray for community, we transcend our own needs and desires. We become part of something greater.
One of my favorite quotes is from Rabbi Harold Schulweis; he wrote:
“Life is holy and life is plural, as it is grammatically plural in the Hebrew word, chayim… There is no solitary life. There is no “I” without “You,” no “me” without “us.” For our lives, we are profoundly dependent upon one another.”
And to that I will just say, Amen.