Let My People Know

"The paradox of prayer"


Among those who say they have never prayed at all in their lives, there are not a few who regularly speak words of prayer at all sorts of occasions, not necessarily in the synagogue or at the set times for prayer. 

There is prayer of thanksgiving for the good and the beautiful, and prayer of supplication in an hour of distress and great need.

There are those who pronounce the words of prayer with their lips, and those who think them in their hearts. 

Only very few people can do without prayer at all.

Thus the real question is: 

How does one pray in the synagogue, if one doesn't have any connection with the place and its worshipers, when the words do not express one's innermost feelings? 

To be honest, the same question in all its acuteness troubles many of the others, too, including those who pray three times a day as prescribed.

How can one turn to the Divine in prayer? 

What do the words of prayer mean? 

These are not necessarily modern questions, or even specifically secular. 

They are the very same queries every worshiper asks in the depths of his heart. 

What is more, and this is the paradox of prayer, praying is itself the struggle with these questions.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "Modern Man and His Prayer," in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz