Prayers, Psalms and Supplication – Balak 5774
As we enter another week of searching for our kidnapped boys in Israel, Jewish people around the world unite in prayer for our children. From Psalms recited by the Knesset of the State of Israel, to a song at the wedding of a Chassidic Rebbe’s son, so a prayer assembly at a stadium in Monsey, New York, Jews are praying. Of course, we also engage in physical efforts to find the boys, but as Jews we feel the need to pray. According to a recent survey, approximately 86% of Americans say they believe in G-d, while 9 out of 10 Americans claimed to “engage in prayer regularly.” Judaism maintains that human beings have a natural desire to seek a relationship with G-d and to connect with a reality beyond the purely physical. The statistics indicate that this is true even in a nation where wealth and comfort abound. We are drawn to prayer, explains the 13th century poet and philosopher, Rabbi Yehudah Halevy, because, “Prayer benefits the soul just as food benefits the body.”
The Book of Psalms (Tehillim) reflects our longing to connect with G-d through prayer. The fact that millions of people of many cultures and backgrounds have turned to Psalms for inspiration, attests to the universality of that longing. Tehillim are the prophetically composed prayers written by several authors, but primarily by King David, of ancient Israel. Prophecy is usually defined as G-d speaking to people. Tehillim, on the other hand, consists entirely of people speaking to G-d.
This “reverse prophecy” is nonetheless considered prophecy, and teaches us a fundamental idea about prayer. Just as prophecy is necessary in order to know what G-d is saying to us, we also need prophecy to know what we really want to say to G-d. On one level it is clear that we want to ask G-d for health, wealth, dignity and other human requirements. Tehillim allows us to access the deepest desires of our soul and to convey its needs to G-d.
The natural inclination to pray must be encouraged and nurtured. If an individual is never able to communicate his true feelings, he will become depressed and unable to function well. Similarly, the soul needs to express itself and speak with G-d, and if it is prevented from doing so through prayer, it too will experience depression and become dysfunctional. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook explains that by allowing the soul to articulate its desire for contact with G-d, prayer removes a burden from the soul and gives it a feeling of relief and freedom.
The Talmud criticizes a person who looks upon the act of prayer as a burden, because he fails to understand that it is beneficial to him. Prayer relieves his soul of a burden that otherwise rests on it. The Bible describes prayer as the “pouring out of the soul before G-d.” In times of need and distress, calling out to G-d is an expression of our deep-seated belief in Him and in His capacity to help us. That G-d listens when we call out to Him is a kindness on His part, but it is also something that we expect as His children. The Bible tells us on numerous occasions, “You are children to the Lord, your G-d.” Just as nothing is more natural for a child than to call to his parents when he is in trouble, so too human beings instinctively cry out to G-d in times of distress.