In this study I would like to examine what prayer is, and what praying will accomplish. The first time we see ‘praying’ in Scripture is found in:


1 Sh’muel (Samuel) 1:1-18 Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name [was] Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite: And he had two wives; the name of the one [was] Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto HaShem of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of HaShem, [were] there. And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but HaShem had shut up her womb. And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because HaShem had shut up her womb. And [as] he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of HaShem, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? [am] not I better to thee than ten sons? So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of HaShem. And she [was] in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto HaShem, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, HaShem of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto HaShem all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head. And it came to pass, as she continued praying before HaShem, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I [am] a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before HaShem. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant [thee] thy petition that thou hast asked of him. And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more [sad].


 Strong’s Concordance gives the definition of ‘praying’ as:


6419 palal, paw-lal'; a prim. root; to judge (officially or mentally); by extens. to intercede, pray:-intreat, judge (-ment), (make) pray (-er, - ing), make supplication.


If the prime meaning for the Hebrew root word for ‘praying’ is to judge, then whom are we judging? We can get a clue to the answer by understanding that the Hebrew word ‘palal’ is reflexive, that is, the speaker acts upon himself. From this we understand that ‘praying’ is judging oneself!


It is understood that a person can have only one ratzon, only one desire at a time. If we examine our current desire and ask, “Why do I desire this thing?” If the answer leads us to an underlying desire, then we need to repeat this question until we arrive at the answer: “I desire this thing for no other reason than I desire it”. At this point we understand what is our ratzon, what is our innermost desire. Getting to our ratzon can be a very difficult and embarrassing ordeal, but the exercise will help us to pray.


For example: I want to earn more money. Why do I desire more money? I desire more money because I desire a new car. Why do I desire a new car? I desire a new car in order to attract a young lady. Why do I desire to attract this young lady? I desire the young lady because I desire her. This is the true ratzon, the true desire.


What is a ratzon? Strong’s defines a ratzon as:


7522 ratzon, raw-tsone'; or     ratson, raw-tsone'; from 7521; delight  (espec. as shown):-(be) acceptable (-ance, -ed), delight, desire, favour, (good) pleasure, (own, self, voluntary) will, as... (what) would.


This ratzon is what motivates us to act in the world. When we pray we are ‘judging ourselves’ and acting on that judgment.


The Sages derive many of the rules for praying from Hannah’s prayer. We will therefore look at Hannah’s prayer in a careful manner to attempt to understand how to pray.


Lets start by examining Hannah’s ratzon:


1 Sh’muel (Samuel) 1:10 And she [was] in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto HaShem, and wept sore.


Our story opens with a bit of background information that helps us to understand why Hannah had such bitterness of soul. Peninnah had children and Hannah did not. Peninnah provoked Hannah because Hannah had no children. The only way that Peninnah could provoke Hannah, is if Hannah had a ratzon, a strong desire, for children. This ratzon is what caused Hannah to pray.


When we pray, we pray for the ratzon, for the desire of our heart. That is why a thief will often pray that he not be caught. The incongruity of asking HaShem to help a thief commit a crime that HaShem has forbidden, never enters the mind of such a person because his ratzon is so strong. Such a prayer, oddly enough, is often answered. Why is it answered?


Psalm 145:16 Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.


Tehillim (Psalm) 106:15 And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.


So, be exceedingly careful about what you pray for!


Hannah’s ratzon caused her to pray:


1 Sh’muel (Samuel) 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, HaShem of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto HaShem all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.


The first rule about praying can be derived from the above verse: Hannah SPOKE. In order to properly pray, we should speak. The mental desire should become manifest in the world by our words. As Hannah desired, so she spoke.


One of the major differences between men and animals is our ability to thoughtfully speak. We can pray because we can speak.


Notice that when Hannah spoke, her lips moved but no sound was heard:


1 Sh’muel (Samuel) 1:13 Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.


From this, the Sages have learned that the words must be spoken, but they should be inaudible to others.


It is no accident that prayer emanates from the mouth, which is in the center of the body. From the center comes Daat, that is knowledge, or connection. It is our neshama’s[1] connection with HaShem!


It is interesting to note that the mouth is also used for kissing and eating. The mouth is used to bless HaShem. Blessings are a very important form of prayer.


As you begin to learn the blessings, pay attention to the structure.


One great way to learn the blessings is with a “bracha bee”. This spelling bee type game is a great way to learn while having a bit of fun.


The rules are:


  1. Leader mentions a food, say “Pizza”
  2. The others in the group shout out the blessing (e.g. shehacol, hamotzi, etc).
  3. The person with the most correct answers wins the bee.


The “official” answers, to be used by the leader, are found in “A Guide to Blessings”, by Rabbi Naftali Hoffner, available through Mesorah Publications for $2.99.


This widely-used Guide to Blessings lists which bracha should be said for hundreds of different foods and drinks commonly available. It also establishes clear priorities for those situations in which two Berachoth appear to conflict. By providing the answers to these everyday questions, the Guide can be of invaluable help to the Jew in expressing gratitude to HaShem for His daily gifts of sustenance. Includes grace after eating, daily blessings, and blessing for special circumstances.


I highly recommend this book!


The Pattern Of Prayer


How do we know how to pray? Has HaShem given us a clear understanding as to how He wants to be worshipped? Lets take a look at what the Tanakh[2] says about the Temple service:


1 Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) 28:11-19 Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlors thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat, And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of HaShem, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things: Also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of HaShem, and for all the[He gave] of gold by weight for [things] of gold, for all instruments of all manner of service; [silver also] for all instruments of silver by weight, for all instruments of every kind of service: Even the weight for the candlesticks of gold, and for their lamps of gold, by weight for every candlestick, and for the lamps thereof: and for the candlesticks of silver by weight, [both] for the candlestick, and [also] for the lamps thereof, according to the use of every candlestick. And by weight [he gave] gold for the tables of Shewbread, for every table; and [likewise] silver for the tables of silver: Also pure gold for the fleshhooks, and the bowls, and the cups: and for the golden basins [he gave gold] by weight for every basin; and [likewise silver] by weight for every basin of silver: And for the altar of incense refined gold by weight; and gold for the pattern of the chariot of the cherubims, that spread out [their wings], and covered the ark of the covenant of HaShem. All [this, said David], HaShem made me understand in writing by [his] hand upon me, [even] all the works of this pattern.


So, HaShem gave King David the proper pattern for the service. This pattern is preserved in the synagogue service and prayers. HaShem has not left us without a clear understanding of how He wants to be worshipped.




Gospel = G-d’s spell = G-d’s story

Gospel = Oral Torah

Gospel = Jewish people

Gospel = Mashiach ben Yoseph


In Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 53:1, we read, "we esteemed him not"? Who esteemed Him not? These are the kings of the nations of Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 52:15. Who says in v. 4 "He has borne our griefs"? It is the same Kings of the Goyim in 52:15




The prayers were instituted to replace the daily offerings.[3]


Three times daily, we say the silent, standing prayer. We should approach this with awe, as if we were performing the Temple's daily offerings ourselves.




When planning a surprising evening of romance for his wife, a husband knows that the basic elements might be: Ambiance (e.g. music, candlelight), attention (spending time alone together, ignoring the telephone etc.), and a gift (e.g. flowers). A neophyte, reading this, might think that it is equally effective to light a candle and blow it out, put on some quiet music an hour later while talking on the phone, then to ignore the phone etc. All of the elements are there - why isn't it "working"?


The answer is obvious to all of us, the "magic" of the evening depends on a series of loving, affectionate acts, which build upon each other. Coming home to quiet music, the lights dimmed, seeing flowers on the table and the phone unplugged sets an environment, which allows the next step(s) to flow more easily.


Actually, we experience the same thing every morning. Upon waking, we are obligated to wear Tefillin, make sure that all of our four-cornered clothes have tzitzith, say Kiryat Shema, say Tefillah.[4] Theoretically, these acts could be performed independently: say Tefillah, put on a Tallit (and then take it off), say Kiryat Shema, then put on Tefillin. However, the Rabbis created a system, or "order", of performing these mitzvot. First we put on a Tallit (even if we are not technically obligated; wrapped in that, we put on Tefillin; we then sing praises of HaShem, raising the tone of that praise until the community "comes together" for Bar'khu; this takes us to a communal recreation of angelic praise, which leads directly to Kiryat Shema; at that point, if we have properly focused and not been interrupted, the experience of Tefillah will be very ennobling and elevating. This experiential matrix utilizes the various mitzvot which we must do every day to build an experience which is greater than the sum of its parts.






“The Complete ArtScroll Siddur”, by Rabbi Nosson Scherman. Published by Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


“Teaching Tefillah, Insights and Activities on Prayer”, by Bruce Kadden and Barbara Binder Kadden. Published by A.R.E . Publishing, Inc.




This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

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[1] Neshama is one level of our soul.

[2] An acronym for Torah, Neviim, andf Ketuvim. This is how Jews identify what Christians call the Old Testament.

[3] Talmud Berachot 26b

[4] Teffillah is the Hebrew word for prayer.