Martin M. van Brauman
Why do we pray? Prayer is an outpouring of the heart. This outpouring is derived from a communion with God. We ask for new strength, vision, hope and understanding. We seek help to carry our burdens more stanchly, to face temptation more purposefully and to pray for spiritual uplifting.
In Deuteronomy 6:5 is the primary prayer of Jewish faith: Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is the One. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions. It is the prayer for the morning, evening and bedtime. It is the prayer inscribed within the mezuzah on every Jewish doorpost. It is the final prayer uttered before death and it is the prayer on the lips of Jewish martyrs whether they were murdered by Catholics of the Inquisition, Hitler’s SS, or Muslim jihadists. When the Pharisees asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the Law, from Deuteronomy 6:5 Jesus replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:35-40).
After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the synagogue became the predominant Jewish religious institution with its worship based upon God’s Word and prayer instead of the Temple with its worship based upon animal sacrifice.[i] The synagogue is the home of the Jewish heart, the ultimate expression “that wherever we gather to turn our hearts towards heaven, there the Divine Presence can be found, for God is everywhere.”[ii] The Divine Presence lives not in a building, but in the human heart wherever its worshippers gather for They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them – Exodus 25:8.[iii]
Since the destruction of the Temple, prayer not only takes the place and purpose of sacrifice, but is more important than sacrifice.[iv] The purpose of the sacrificial service was to bring about a person’s closeness and dedication to Godliness.[v] Prayer is the elevation of the soul unto God.[vi]
The Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed because the Law was followed strictly and carried out as ritual without the compassion and mercy of prayer. In Matthew 23:13, Jesus said Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
When Jesus entered the Temple area in the court of the Gentiles during Passover and drove out those buying and selling at the animal pens and overturned the tables of the money changes, from Isaiah 56:7 Jesus exclaimed Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? Mark 11:15-17. From Jeremiah 7:11, Jesus further exclaimed But you have made it a den of robbers. Mark 11:17. Earlier, the prophet Jeremiah called for repentance from the people of Israel, harking back to Shiloh and the time of the prophet Samuel and the corrupt priesthood.
Has this Temple, upon which My Name is proclaimed, become a cave of criminals in your eyes? . . . For go to My shrine that is in Shiloh, where I caused My Name to dwell there at first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. So now, since you do all these deeds – the word of the Lord – and I have spoken to you, speaking repeatedly, but you have not listened; I have called out to you but you did not respond, I shall do to the Temple – upon which My Name is proclaimed, upon which you place your trust – and to the place that I have given to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. I shall cast you from My presence, as I cast out all your brethren, all the seed of Ephraim. Jeremiah 7:11-15.
By allowing the Temple’s court of the Gentiles to become a boisterous, putrid marketplace, the Jewish religious leaders were obstructing God’s desire for a house of prayer for all nations. God will remove obstacles that prevent dialogue between God and man, for God seeks engagement with man.
During the inauguration of the first Temple, King Solomon described future exiles of the Jewish people, but assured future generations that confessional prayer will replace the Temple for the atonement for all sin and God will hear their prayers.
When they sin against You – for there is no man who never sins – and You become angry with them, and You deliver them to an enemy, and their captors take them captive to the enemy’s land, faraway or nearby, and they take it to heart in the land where they were taken captive and they repent and supplicate to You in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned; we have been iniquitous; we have been wicked,’ and they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul . . . and pray to You by way of their land that You gave to their forefathers, and [by way of] the city that You have chosen and [through] the Temple that I built for Your Name – may You hear their prayer and their supplication from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and carry out their judgment, and forgive Your people who sinned against You, and all their transgressions that they transgressed against You, and let them inspire mercy before their captors, so that they will treat them mercifully.
For they are Your people and Your heritage, whom You have taken out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace [the oppression the Jews suffered in Egypt is compared to a furnace in which metal is purified]; may Your eyes thus be open to the supplication of Your servant and the supplication of Your people Israel, to listen to them whenever they call out to You. For You have separated them for Yourself as a heritage from all the peoples of the earth, as You spoke through Your servant Moses, when You took our forefathers out of Egypt, O my Lord, the Lord/God.1Kings 8:46-53.
The Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him I have heard your prayer and
. . . [i]f I ever restrain the heavens so that there will be no rain, or if I ever command locusts to devour the land, or if I ever send a pestilence among My people, and My people, upon whom My Name is proclaimed, humble themselves and pray and seek My presence and repent of their evil ways – I will hear from Heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:12-14.
Today, Judaism is based upon faith in God and the study of God’s Word with prayer. The basic function of prayer is not its practical consequences, but the metaphysical formation of a fellowship consisting of God and man. Prayer is not a series of requests to God, but prayer is an engagement, even a confrontation, with God.[vii] God initiated dialogue with man at Sinai. Through the Bible, God speaks to us and we speak to God through prayer and this dialogue is created by the linking of Bible study and prayer.
[People] had never heard, never observed, no eye had ever seen a god – except for You – that acted for those who trust in Him. Isaiah 64:3
[i] Ignaz Maybaum, The Face of God After Auschwitz, (1st ed. 1965), pp. 62, 198.
[ii] Sacks, Covenant & Conversation: Exodus: The Book of Redemption, (1st ed. 2010), pp. 190-191.
[iii] Ibid., p. 192.
[iv] David Patterson, Wrestling With the Angel: Toward a Jewish Understanding of the Nazi Assault on the Name, (1st ed. 2006), p. 68.
[v] The Chumash, Genesis 8:20, commentary.
[vi] Patterson, p. 68.
[vii] Patterson, Overcoming Alienation: A Kabbalistic Reflection on the Five Levels of the Soul, (1st ed. 2008), p. 167.