Tuesday, November 13, 2018 -
Print Edition

Is your prayer better than mine?

THE shoe imprint in the rug below.?

One’s synagogue has a rug.

One’s praying of the Amidah (Silent Prayer) has been deeply focused.

As one backs away three steps upon completing the Amidah, one will notice the imprint in the rug below.

Truly, that’s the only concrete measure of prayer there is. 

IF one person prays for someone who is ill, is it twice as effective if two people pray for the same ill person? What if one’s name has been added to a list of people needing a refuah shelemah, a complete healing, and (say) 116 people pray for that ill person. Is their prayer 116 times as effective as mine?

Judging by current practice, the answer seems to be yes. Psalms recitation groups abound. Prayer is widely seen as efficacious. A study was done some years ago that showed that ill people who know that others are praying for their recovery do better than those who lack this.

I discern a logic chop here; also, paradoxically, a possible lack of faith.

To Whom is prayer offered? The Infinite One. Because G-d is infinite, no one can measure the impact of a given prayer. Infinity is not measurable. If I feel that 116 other prayers need to be joined to my own, do I not think that prayer is measurable? If so, G-d is reduced from His Infinity to a measurable quantity. Only if the impact of prayer is measurable will prayers offered by 116 others appear more efficacious than my own. I lack faith in my power of prayer. 

I count.

I can address the Infinite One.?

He gave me that power.

My words.

My intentions.

My requests.

My relationship, in prayer, with the Holy One, Blessed be He, can make a difference.

If so, what possible additional difference can still another prayer, let alone another 116 prayers, make?

Infinity cannot be added to.

There is no mathematical or theological sense to the expression, “Infinity-plus.”

If, despite this, G-d said that my prayer counts, this means that my own prayer — little me, my words — are absorbed into G-d.

What could possibly be added to that? Nothing. There is no Infinity-plus.

Therefore.

If I am praying.

Me.

Uttering real words of prayer.

Knowing they make a difference.

Not rote.

Really praying.

The real item.

Therefore.

No other prayers, and no one else praying, are needed.

I can make the difference.

G-d gave me — my voice, my prayer — that power.

“Everything depends on me.”

ARE we to say, then, that prayer lists, or Psalms-recitation groups, are superfluous? If nothing can be added to Infinity, is it not so that nothing is needed but my own prayer? A minyan — is this not superfluous? Even worse, a logic chop?

The answer is yes, from my perspective.

But what about someone else’s perspective? It is precisely the same as mine.

Every person who prays is the center of the universe at that moment of prayer.

Every person’s words of prayer are absorbed into G-d.

However, if one recites prayers as part of a group (or one puts one’s name on a prayer list) because two is better than one — if one thinks that the prayers of many measure up to additional efficacy, that multiple prayers outshine a single prayer — one is not praying. One does not really believe and know that one’s own prayer is efficacious.

But if one recites prayers as part of a group, yet wholly focuses on one’s own prayer, or if one puts one’s name on a prayer list and focuses on each individual pray-er’s power of prayer, one believes in the efficacy of prayer, yes.

It may sound like a subtle difference.

But it makes all the difference in the world. 

INFINITY-plus is an impossibility.

In prayer, I am focused wholly on G-d.

Not on mathematics.

Not on others praying.

Not on lists.

Not even on Divine promises.

The question — is your prayer better than mine? — is a comparison.

Which is a measure and, in prayer, is meaningless.

Still, some are more practiced in prayer.

Their shoe imprints on the rug are deeper.

This does not mean that they should pray instead of me; it means that I should learn from them how to pray, how to focus.

There are role models in prayer. 

THE question — will G-d answer my prayer if it is indeed focused? — is a form of Infinity-plus. With this question, I want something added to my prayer itself. Its absorption into G-d is, for me, insufficient, not inherently validating.

How my prayer “registers” — in which way, place and time it is efficacious — is often unrevealed.

Either that, or my prayer is not as focused as I think.

Either way, the task of prayer, the goal of prayer, the end of prayer, is to keep praying, to increase the focus, to sustain the relationship with G-d. 

BUT is there not such a thing as “the community’s prayer,” and such a thing as a praying community, and such a thing as a misheberach, a collective offering up of a prayer for the ill?

Yes, yes, and yes.

But the community is not the sum total of the people praying, not a massive Infinity-plus, not an exercise in arithmetic, with the “community’s” prayer equivalent to the number of people praying.

The community’s prayer, too, is absorbed into G-d, by His decree.

The community is a metaphysical entity.

Thus, if there are 10, there is a community in prayer.

If there are only nine, not so.

Therefore.

Whether there are 10-plus 1 or 10-plus 1 million people praying, it is all the same community.

Because the community is a metaphysical entity.

And prayer is a connection to Infinity.

Prayer is a spiritual focus.

Not a spiritual balance sheet.



Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com


Leave a Reply