Prayer & Meditation
V'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11 )
As part of Jewish tradition, Moses knew of God's promise to bring us to the Holy Land, where serving God would meet its perfection. Moses' heartfelt desire was to reach that land.
Moses tells us of his prayers, "I prayed to God at that time saying..." (Deut. 3:23) God cut short Moses' prayer and did not allow him to set foot in the Promised Land.
We know from several places that Moses was an expert at prayer. He definitely had some powerful prayers in Egypt. And afterwards, in the desert, when Israel was in trouble on a few occasions, it was Moses' prayers that saved them. Yet this time, his prayer seems ineffective. What happened?
The commentaries tell us that the first word in this section has an awful lot of information imbedded in it. V'etchanan - "and I prayed" - has two interpretations: 1) as one of the ten standard words for prayer, and 2) as a special word used to describe the request of the righteous. (Rashi commentary to Deut. 3:23)
(1) ASK FOR KINDNESS
As a standard word of prayer, V'etchanan means to request God's benevolence. Moses knew he was not destined to merit to go into the Land, and he was asking that a special kindness be given to him. In fact, the Sages say that Moses prayed 515 intense prayers for this kindness. When God cut him short, the implication was that if Moses had kept praying, God would have relented. So God, who had reasons for not allowing Moses into the land, told him to stop praying.
Some prayers only take once. Some prayers are better as repetitive, constant prayers. The more you ask, the more it appears important to you. If someone who has a request is persistent enough, it can have the effect of impressing upon you how important it is to them, and you relent.
If you prayed and didn't get your prayers answered, there can be many reasons.
A) You didn't pray hard enough.
B) The answer is "no."
C) You didn't pray enough times.
D) The answer is "not yet."
E) You didn't pray the right way.
There are many more possible reasons. But sometimes the number of prayers has an effect in Heaven.
Repetition is not just badgering. Repetition is a way to focus your attention and concentration. Similarly, a mantra is a meditative tool that can focus the meditator on a small idea that is repeated over and over.
Formal prayer has several similarities to meditation. After the Sages in Talmudic times fixed the text for prayer, it took on the form of a mantra. You are saying the same text over and over again. Sooner or later, you know it by heart. It begins to flow from your lips without effort. At that point, you can take it in different directions. You can space out while your lips do the work, or you can access thoughts directly connected to the prayers without disturbing the flow of the prayers, or you can access a deeper state of consciousness.
The Sages recommend accessing a deeper state of consciousness. They say that proper prayer causes a person to lose touch with physicality.
(2) A RIGHTEOUS REQUEST
When the commentaries say that V'etchanan has two interpretations, a difficulty arises. If it is indeed a word that implies prayer, how can it be used as a request that isn't a prayer?
Rashi explains that V'etchanan is derived from the word chinam, which means "free," as in a free gift. He says that even though the righteous have many good deeds, they still ask for a free gift, and don't rely on their merits to bargain with.
If bargaining your merits works, then why don't they do it? And why isn't their request for a free gift also a prayer?
It could certainly be. You can pray to God for some benefit in the merit of some act. You could say, "I'm going to give a dollar to charity today, please help me pass my final exam." That's a prayer to the Almighty. So why don't the righteous do this? And if they aren't praying, why can't anyone do what they do?
The answer is that only the righteous have the ability to make a simple request of God without a prayer. If you have a close relationship with someone, you can make a request without bargaining. The righteous are able to ask God for something, just as you ask a close friend for something. They love God, and He loves them. They don't need to pray to a Higher Being the way most of us do. We feel so far from the Almighty.
Sincere prayers from the heart are extremely powerful. You don't need to take a course on that. Just do it.
But there are many ways to pray that require time and technique. It's a world of poetry and emotion. If you take the time to develop the methods, you will reap a lifetime of reward.
Read one of the Psalms every day for a week. Try to understand the flow and the message.