By Dr. Meir Tamari
"Vaetchanan-- I beseeched."
"Halakhically, by what right may a person pray aloud, since we have learned
from the sages that it is questionable whether a person may do so. Such
loud prayer is considered presumptuous and arrogant, keeping in mind the
greatness of HaShem and the insignificance of human beings. Hannah already
taught us that one may pray in silence, ' and she spoke to her heart'
(Samuel 1, 1:13)"(Devarim Rabbah Parshah 2). Yet Eli the High Priest, who
was the bearer of the tradition handed down from Moses, considered her to
be drunk; since she did not pray loudly as was customary (Rashi). Should
we not then rule that one should not be allowed to pray silently?
In order to resolve this question of silent or loud prayer, it is necessary
to consider the roots from which the impetus to pray comes. We see that
prayer flows from two sources. On the one hand, prayer may come from the
outpouring of the heart that calls to God, because of an individual's
sorrow, or distress, or pain. Alternatively, prayer may be the result of
knowledge, introspection and analysis. Here, the prayer pours out even
though at the outset there was no intention to pray. While it is true that
one requires both mind and heart to pray, nevertheless, in one case the
source is the distress of the heart that awakens the mind to think the
thoughts necessary for prayer, while in the other case it is the wisdom of
the mind that awakens the heart to pour itself out before G-d.
The heart is warm, emotional and is full of religious feeling, so that the
outpouring of spirituality cannot be contained within it. Moreover, the
heart is extremely sensitive to human needs - material, physical and
social- so that such prayer needs to be voiced aloud, even as it is
written, " let your hearts cry out to God". This leads to expression
through sound, voice and bodily movements in prayer. The mind, however, is
cool and collected, rational and unemotional. Here there is constant
intellectual analysis, unrelenting inquiry and sophisticated research, so
that such prayer is hidden and not easily visible. That is why Holy People
and the Righteous Ones always pray silently, without emotion and without
movement. "I have heard that the Admor Simcha Bunem of Pyscha never moved
his hands, his body or his eyes in prayer, nor ever raised his voice. My
father told me that when he was ill on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, my
grandfather, the great Admor Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, took him to pray
together with him in his private study. He watched the Master pray without
motion, movement or sound. He was like a pillar of fire and his face shone
like torches; a veritable awesome angel of the Lord. This is the outpouring
of the ecstasy of the mind, which is the highest form of ecstasy."
In this way we may understand the difference between the formal and set
prayers of the Amidah ordained by the Men of the Great Assembly [Anshei
Knesset Hagedolah] and those intermittent or personal prayers offered by
each individual according to their needs. The set prayer in the Shmoneh
Esrai requires the concentration of the mind and the introspection of the
intelligence, so that each brachah and brachah may be considered and may be
examined, so as to consider its importance and the great loss that would
occur if one had to exist without it. Such intellectual depth and serious
search brings the mind to the stage where it is unable to be separated from
the ideas in the each of the eighteen brachot and thereby one comes to
pray. The sages taught (Talmud, Berachot, 28b) " that one who makes his
prayer set and time-bound, such prayer is not beseeching nor a request".
Naturally, each person fulfills their obligations and achieves their
potential in such prayers, according to their intellectual ability.
However, in the optional, introductory or intermittent prayers, each
individual prays because of their needs, troubles and tribulations, or the
needs and sorrows of family, neighbors and society. This is a function of
heart and the emotions and therefore each prayer is a shout and a loud cry.
For this unity between mind and heart one requires the unity and community
of purpose of communal prayer. Such unity of the worshipers is even able to
unite Heaven and Earth.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.