Within the Jewish faith, there are many pathways to prayer. There are prayers we are required to say, prayers to be recited at the right opportunities and prayers that flow from our hearts. We pray in desperation; we pray in gratitude; we pray to keep ourselves on the right track.
While scientific evidence on the effects of prayer may be controversial, it is interesting to note that there are many studies that do indicate the positive impact of prayer and its ability to aid with healing. The studies that move me the most are the ones that examine intercessory prayer, prayer on behalf of another individual. Persons who were “blindly” prayed for show more positive results in overcoming their illnesses than those who were not prayed for.
While the evidence may remain unclear, one thing is certain – prayer cannot hurt -so why not give it a try?
Prayer of Gratitude
In the weekday Amidah (nineteen blessings - the pillar of Jewish liturgy), the 18th blessing is one of gratitude to G-d (Hoda’ah). The prayer begins “We gratefully thank you…” and goes on to express to G-d praise for our lives and the miracles in them.
One of the more well known expressions of gratitude is the Shehechyianu. Baruch Atah Ado-----nai Elo------heinu melech haolam shehechyianu v’keyimanu vehegianu lazman hazeh Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who has kept us alive and sustained us and enabled us to reach this point.
It is a prayer often recited at the beginning of a new venture, like the head of a new year or upon eating a fruit for the first time in a season. It is expressed at weddings, a brit mila or a bar mitzvah to express our gratitude for having been brought to this point in our lives.
MiSheberach, the traditional Jewish prayer for the sick, is recited after a Torah reading. It is a time when the gates to G-d are open and the opportunity is seized to appeal to G-d for those needing Divine intervention. The Gabbai or one leading services asks for names of those who are ill and recites the prayer on their behalf.
In reform synagogues, the MiSheberach is often sung to a rhythm created by songwriter Debbie Friedman. “May the source of strength who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing… Bless those in need of healing with refuah sh’leimah - the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit…”
Many of us – even those of us who don’t pray – have found ourselves uttering words of appeal to an unknown source. “Please let me make it through this…” “Please make the pain stop…”. The Jewish faith also offers prayers asking G-d for strength.
One of those prayers, recited every morning, has a dual translation – one of which is a request for strength. That prayer is Modeh Ani which is recited upon waking and traditionally thanks G-d for returning our soul to our body.
Modeh Ani lefanecha melech chai v’kayam shehechezarta b’nishmati b’chemla rabba emnua techa “I surrender to G-d all of my existence. I ask G-d to give back to me what I need to do his will today.” (Chabad translation)
Selichot, a series of prayers, is traditionally recited during the month of Elul. On the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashanah, these series of prayers are recited at midnight. While other categories are addressed during this recitation, the main component is Slicha, or forgiveness.
Just as the powers of our prayers are enhanced through fasting on Yom Kippur, our ability to connect with the spiritual depth of the Selichot prayers is intensified by their late night delivery.
Jewish prayer is a pathway to G-d. It can strengthen our relationship with our faith. Prayer can be an admission that we are part of a larger whole. Prayer can be a form of verbal journaling and help us through difficult times. Prayer – like all other aspects of Judaism – is something to delve in to in order to find the expression that is most meaningful to you.