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Thought for the Day: Prayer I -- Why?

As a physicist, one of the first things we learn is that physics never answers "why" questions.  Nonetheless, people do ask perfectly reasonable questions that are phrased as "why" questions -- "Why is the sky blue?", for example.  What they mean, of course, is: "how/by what mechanism does such and such happen".  Where does one go to get his "why" questions answered?  The stock physicist answer is "religion"; by which physicists actually mean to say that asking why is meaningless, so feel free to shop around for any answer you like.

Prayer seems like such an integral part of religion that one may never think to ask, "why pray?"  (Besides, obviously, the anti-religious crowd who aren't asking at all, but are making a snide commentary on the entire institution.)  I have learned a lot, though, by asking questions no one thought to ask.  So... why pray?

To make the question more concrete, imagine I were to walk over to my boss first thing in the morning and say, "Hey, boss; you are an amazing supervisor.  You always back me up to other groups, and always clearly define my goals and tasks.  It's great knowing you are taking care of all those things.  You know, I really need a computer to to my work; and a mouse, screen, and keyboard.  I also need electricity to run it.  I really need a chair and desk, as well.  I need the office to be well lit and will need heat during the winter and air conditioning during the summer.  I don't absolutely need a phone, but it would be helpful.  And a mouse pad.  Thank you for always getting those things for me.  Also, I appreciate that you set our goals to fit in with the corporate initiative.  Basically, I appreciate all you do to make the office run smoothly."

He'd probably (I hope) chuckle a bit when I did that.  Suppose I did that every morning.  Heck, while I'm at it, how about I just make that same speech to him three times a day; every day.  Just to keep him interested, I'll add extra needs (like pens and paper) sometimes into my requests.  But the first sentences and the last three will remain as they are; never a change by even a word.  How long before he gets really, really annoyed?  (Also, IMHO... it definitely would not improve the situation if I said the speech faster than the FedEx guy and also checked my email while talking to my boss.  Just saying.)  Why would be he annoyed?  Well, besides wasting his time telling him things he already knows, I am also not getting my work done.

So I'll ask again, "Why pray?"  HaShem certainly knows anything at all that I care to say, and I certainly have plenty of work (aka עבודת השם) to be doing.  The point of this exercise it to realize that prayer really doesn't have a solid logical basis any more than kashrus, sha'atnez, Shabbos, and on and on.  Moreover, there is a solid logical basis to say that prayer is a waste of time and hence a grave sin.  We therefore have to approach it like any other decree of the King.  See what the Torah says about how and when to pray, then do our best to live up to those dictates and fulfill our obligation as best we can.

What are the parameters, contents, and expectations?  We'll talk about that, בעזרת השם.


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