The Talmud says that a Jew is obligated to pray, based upon Deuteronomy 11:13: “serve Him with all your thoughts — Livavchem — and with all your soul.” Livavchem is a form of the Hebrew word Leiv, which is most often translated as the heart. In the Torah, however, we find that the first appearance of Leiv is Genesis 6:5 “Machshavos Libo” — thoughts of his Leiv (see also Proverbs 19:21). We do the same thing in English, referring to a person with a “warm heart,” while in reality we know thoughts are in the head. Be that as it may, the service of G-d in Deuteronomy 11, service “with all your heart,” is found in our thoughts. The Sages of the Talmud say that this is prayer, Tefilah.
The word Tefila deserves further examination as well, because although we commonly translate it as prayer, the origin of the word is the root Palel, meaning to judge or decide (see Ex. 21:22). Jewish prayer, in fact, is a form of reflection and self-judgment. In the reflexive form, the verb L’hispalel, “to pray,” actually means to judge one’s self.
Prayer is better understood as a service of the Al-mighty that takes place in our thoughts, which involves judging ourselves, making decisions, before G-d. We make judgments and decisions many times each day. The obligation to pray asks us to involve G-d in our thoughts and in the decisions we make. Formal prayer remains necessary, for it trains us to turn to Him periodically throughout the day — but the training should lead us to turn to Him whenever we need clarity and help, far beyond the synagogue. (Heard from Rabbi Jonathan Rietti)
G-d loves us, and He asks us to love Him back. Sometimes more precious than hearing “I love you” is hearing “I was thinking about you.” The more He’s on our mind, the closer we come to Him. Also, let’s not forget that He’s the ultimate source of all goodness. He pulls the strings infinitely more effectively than any other resource in our network of friends or associates. Shouldn’t such a personal contact take priority over all others?
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Project Genesis – Torah.org