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Thought for the Day: Prayer Is the Ultimate Relationship Building Activity, and It Happens Through Asking

For years I have come home from davening/learning in the morning, change into my biking clothes, pack my lunch, have a quick bite to eat with my wife, then off to work.  Since the last couple of months, the routine has an addition: get breakfast for the grandchildren; it's one of the favorite parts of my day, Baruch HaShem.  Part of the routine goes like this:
Grandchild(heretofore known as gc): May I have a waffle please?
Me: sure, just let me finish ....
Gc: May I have a waffle please?
Me: sure, just let me finish ....
Gc: May I have a waffle please?
Me: sure, just let me finish getting cereal for gc1.
Gc: May I have a waffle please?
... ...
Gc: Thank you!
Even better, they often all three (the baby is too young to chime in, yet) make their requests and request repeats all at the same time.  So I started wondering if that's how I sound.  Every day, three times a day, six days a week, I ask for the same things.  Moreover, HaShem knows what I want before I even ask.  More than moreover, He also knows what I need and whether or not what I want will be good for me.  Why in the world would I ask even once?  If I need it and it will be good for me, then He will have already given it to me; if I don't need it and especially if it would be bad for me, then He -- Baruch HaShem -- will not give it to me.  (No matter how cutely my granddaughter asks for a razor blade, I'm just not going to give it to her.)  So why do I pray?

As long as we're questioning the whole prayer thing, how about the format?  Our prayer is always in the format of praise followed by requests followed by expressions of gratitude.  That is very strict: one is not allowed to make requests in the praise nor gratitude section.  That's what the books all say... but the very last bracha of our prayer, the end of the gratitude section, is a petition for peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, and kindness.  Hmm... perhaps a perspective adjustment is needed.

And here it is: prayer is not about getting stuff.  If we need the stuff, HaShem will give it to us.  If the stuff would be bad for us, HaShem won't give it to us.  As noted before, we were created to have fun and the most fun is a close relationship with HaShem (since He is the ultimate source of all fun and goodness) and this world is a place to build that relationship.  How do we do that?  There are three main channels: doing mitzvos, learning, and davening.  Doing mitzvos improves us (makes us more fit for that so-desired relationship with HaShem), torah brings more k'dusha into the world (making the relationship we build all the more intense and rich), davning is developing the relationship.

Now let's look a the structure.  Supplication must be the centerpiece of prayer, since our relationship with HaShem is ultimately that we receive and HaShem bestows.  But not all asking creates a relationship.  If you ask me what time it is (you'll be disappointed, as I don't wear a watch), you are looking for facts, not a bonding experience.  If you ask for my opinion, that is better, as only I can give you my opinion.  Still though, you may just be looking to gather opinions.  When you start by explaining that my opinion is valuable to you because you know this and that about me; then I answer in a completely different way.  You have invited a sharing of who am I with who you are.  When we praise HaShem, we put ourselves in the frame of mind for a deep sharing of what we truly seek from the only one who can provide that.  Then I ask for those things that I my life literally depends on -- knowledge/wisdom/common sense, forgiveness, parnassa, health, and so on.  Then I say thank you and acknowledge that there is no place for me to turn except Him.

That last bracha?  That bracha, says the Mishna Brura, acknowledges that HaShem is ultimately the only source of all goodness -- not just for me, but for the entire Jewish community and all of mankind.  There is no greater thanks that a parent can receive than when his child turns to him and him alone for everything.


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