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What Should We Pray For?

Yael Eckstein praying at Western Wall

Credit:Debbi Cooper

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them. — Psalm 32:6

In honor of my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and his lifework helping Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, I offer you one of his devotional teachings from the beloved Psalms.

What should the truly faithful pray for?

In Psalm 32, we read, “Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found…” In the Jewish tradition, this verse is understood as the following: “Therefore let all the faithful pray to you — at a time of metzo…” The Hebrew word metzo has several meanings, including “finding,” “leaving,” and “results.” Based on these meanings, the Jewish sages offer five possible interpretations of this verse. Each answers the question for what we should be praying.

The first interpretation of the most important prayer is for finding the right spouse. The person with whom we build our life has the potential to lift us up or bring us down. A spouse can help make us or break us. Therefore, the most critical prayer is for God to help all of us find the right partner for life.

The second understanding is that we must pray to find spiritual illumination. The sages compare this to lightning bolts on a dark and stormy night. Like lighting along an unfamiliar path, finding God’s Word and His will for us can illuminate our lives. We pray that God will send us a multitude of flashes of light so that we will know where to go, what to do, and how to remain faithful to Him at all times.

The third interpretation is that we must pray for a good death — a time of leaving. The sages teach that those who lived their lives for purely material pleasures will experience death as a dark, horrible moment. Everything that matters to them will be gone. But for those who have lived life well — full of spirit and meaning — the time of departure from this world will be a graceful and delightful step into a wonderful afterlife. We must always pray that this will be our final experience.

The fourth understanding suggests that we pray for a good burial at our time of leaving. What this means is that our departure from this world is significant to those we have left behind. We pray that our lives will leave a legacy that brings others to God and goodness by the example that we have shown them.

The final explanation is the most surprising of all: The most important prayer is… for a bathroom! What?

Yes! The most important prayer of the faithful is for everything — all the results that we want to see in our lives — even a bathroom when we need one! We pray for the biggest things and the smallest things, the greatest spiritual aspirations and the most basic physical needs. For all our prayers, there is one address: God. Our most important prayer to Him is every prayer to Him.

Your turn:

Download a complimentary chapter on Sukkot: Teaching Our Children Faith, from my new book, Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith, to discover the important lessons about faith found in this festive celebration.

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