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BogElul Day 18: pray

This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.


blogelulWhen someone says “I pray that…” what do you understand them to mean?

I was reminded this as I re-watched one of my favorite sci-fi series – FarsScape () and the following dialog came up:

D’Argo: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this fiasco, it’s that I will never be chained up again.”
Zhaan: “I pray that will be the case.”
D’Argo: “You can pray all you like. I was expressing a fact. Not a hope.”

That got me thinking, so I looked at how pray was used in older times. It used to be rendered as “prithee”. Wikipedia told me that:

“Prithee is an archaic English interjection formed from a corruption of the phrase pray thee. […] Although the closest Modern English equivalent of prithee is please, […] the word please suggests that the person being addressed is willing to comply with the request, whereas the word prithee suggests that he or she is not willing.”

This stands in stark contrast to the way Judaism views prayer. There are several words I know that mean “to pray”:

  • daven – “to move the lips”; or “from our fathers”
  • tefillah – to judge (ourselves, not others); or “attachment”
  • avodah – to serve, as a servant would work for a master

What I understand from this is that prayer should not be idle wishing, not a daydream of something that might someday be. Prayer is an active state – grounding ourselves to the traditions of our past, determining whether we have what it takes to make our prayers a reality, and then committing ourselves to the work of making our words come to be.

It is this engaged state of being that we should be cultivating in this month of reflection and self-analysis so that when we open our hearts to pray on Rosh Hashana, we are expressing a fact, not a hope.

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