Yes, prayer gives us a chance to spell out our needs and hurts. It also humbly acknowledges that we can make all the efforts in the world but we cannot be sure of success because He’s in charge; that Providence is not in our hands unless He puts it there. So we beseech Him.
But Rabbi Dessler says that the whole purpose of all of Judaism is to turn a needy suckling into a generous grownup! I understand that like this: It’s OK for a baby to need and want. Also at later ages, it’s OK to have needs – but not all day long, every day again. We need to resemble our Creator and give too. That should be our main focus.
So, if our prayers are gimme, gimme, gimme, something is off.
But what can we do if all that prayer texts say is: “we want this, we lack that”? Then we should read with different eyes. That’s not all it says.
We should – at times that we are not in great distress – Heaven forbid – focus on the words that say: thank you. Here are some examples.
- Every Blessing in our Main Prayer ends with a praise of G^d. Focus on these words with gratitude!
- The Priestly Blessing, focus on how He blessed us and is blessing us already, instead of just: gimme more.
- In the Second Blessing in our Main Prayer, we acknowledge that He makes us live, heals the sick, promises that death is finite, sends us rain, livelihood and redemption gracefully, lifts up the fallen, and is trust-worthy and unique (like we should be too). It’s not enough to beg Him for healing. First, we need to acknowledge that He is the Healer. (We get healed millions of times before ever getting sick.)
- In the verse heading off our Main Prayer, we express our wish and hope to praise Him. Don’t make that an idle expectation!
- Prayer is not to charm G^d – and get from Him. That is what idol worshipers try! G^d is fine and fine with us. We need to change, not G^d. Paying charity before praying should not be like bribery, trying to please G^d. When we give, we increase our worthiness – or better: We give to be our true selves and be giving, generous. We glorify Him, not for Him to feel good but for us to be humble.
Prayer is to relate properly to G^d. That must transform us (To put Him central in our lives, to only put our hope in Him, etc.), not Him. A child doesn’t cry with his parents to make them feel better; a client doesn’t talk to a shrink to inform him; Jews don’t talk to G^d to change His Mind. (G^d doesn’t change His mind by us asking. He doesn’t change, period. Rather, He gives us an opportunity to join Him, to be His co-worker, to ask for good before He does so; to beg against evil before He stops it.)
Make no mistake, Baruch, the first word of most blessings, doesn’t mean “Blessed.” Nor “Thank you.” Rather, it means “Source of all blessing.” You want to eat your apple (to keep the doctor away). You can’t just take from G^d’s world. You make a blessing and then you can. How does that work? The blessing is an acknowledgement. You say: The Source of all blessing are You, Eternal G^d, our Devine Judge, Ruler of the Cosmos, tree fruit Creator. Immediately, G^d says: you can have it, enjoy.
Last but not least, smiling, being happy, is a nice way to show gratefulness. Also during prayer. (Cry when you need to but not during every prayer in your life.) And towards other congregants, a smile also shows generosity. Instead of: gimme me me me first and now.
And once we understand that, we can also fathom that chosen means: to be His intermediary and envoy and giving towards all of His children.