mefalel

Hebrew Word of the Week: Pray

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Hebrew

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This week, I want to take a look the verb meaning “pray” in Hebrew. It looks like this:

מְפַלֵּל

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“Yih’yeh zeh mam’niy sheaniy tzariykh’ l’haf’siyk l’hit’palel bish’viyl’kha.”

“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you.” 1 Samuel 12:23

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I chose the verb to pray instead of the noun prayer because it is something we should be doing all the time.

It is interesting to note that God did not make prayer a mitzvah (commandment or good deed). Yet we somehow know deep in our hearts that we always ought to be praying to God. Praying is a part of who we are as we are made in God’s image. He communicates to us and by extension, we should be praying to God. God is a god of communication, and since we are in His image, we, too, are creatures of communication.

Although we see people praying at set times (like Daniel and David), yet God has not set a specific time or number of times during the day, to pray.

Were a person to know the time when, if they pray, they will be answered, they would leave off other times and pray only then. Accordingly, the Holy One said: For this reason I do not let you know when you will be answered, so that you will be willing to pray at all times, as is said, ‘Put your trust in God at all times’ (Psalms 62:9)” (Aggadah Bereshit 77).

Praying should be as automatic as breathing. It is a way of life, not mere moments in time. Pray without ceasing, says 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

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“Then the king said to the man of God, “Intercede with the Lord your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.” So the man of God interceded with the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored and became as it was before.” 1 Kings 13:6

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Why did the people of other nations come to the Hebrews for prayer? Because they knew that the God of the Hebrews heard His children when they prayed. Their own gods were incapable of hearing, but they knew that the Hebrew God not only heard prayer, He answered it as well.

Making prayer as automatic as breathing requires devotion. It is an acknowledgment of the world as it truly is.

“For prayer is not the shutting of one’s eyes to reality. It is the glimmer, the intimation, the daring which leads to the transcending of reality” (Jakob Petuchowski)

It is a recognition that not are we small and limited in the universe, but that we also have the capacity for goodness and greatness. We seem insignificant but have the attention of Almighty God. We are not alone, nor are we helpless. God is just a breath away.

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“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3).”

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“If prayer is pure and untainted, surely that holy breath that rises from your lips will join with the breath of heaven that is always flow­ing into you from above.”

(From the Hasidic work Keter Shem Tov, as adapted in Your Word Is Fire, by Arthur Green and Barry Holtz)

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