This year, Rosh Hashanah begins on the evening of Oct. 2. On the first day of the holiday, we read the Haftorah that tells us the story of Chana the prophetess, who prayed to G-d for a child. She prayed softly while whispering. Eli, the high priest and leader of the Jewish people, thought she was drunk, as this type of prayer was foreign to him.
She replied, “I’m not drunk, I’m praying for a child!”
Chana prayed to G-d and told Him, through her prophecy, that her child would be an important person in the Jewish nation. This, in fact, came true. Her wish was fulfilled, her son Samuel was born, and he became one of the greatest prophets of the Jewish people.
Chana’s method of prayer is used as the basis for all the Jewish laws of prayer. As well, the rabbis of the Great Assembly instituted the text of the prayers throughout the year based on Chana’s manner, specifically for the Amidah prayer of 18 blessings, called Shmona Esray, which is recited quietly while standing. This prayer is also said with deep concentration, as we are standing in G-d’s presence.
But there are also times when our hearts need to open up and scream out loud for what we need or want in our own words. G-d wants us to open our hearts to Him and give Him our emotions. Every day, all year long, each prayer we recite brings us closer to G-d. Every prayer we recite is immensely valuable if said with sincere feeling. When we need something and feel that only G-d can help us, we shout out to Him as we do when something hurts us physically.
Prayer is immensely powerful, especially when recited as a kindness for others. Our sages taught that if a person prays for a friend, they fulfil the biblical commandment (mitzvah) of performing kindness. If one is in the same situation as their friend and prays for their friend, they will be answered first.
There is the story of a farmer who went to his synagogue on Rosh Hashanah but couldn’t read at all. Being illiterate, he just wrapped himself in his tallit and stood shaking and screaming like a rooster, as that was the only way he knew how to express himself from the heart.
Our sages also taught that G-d receives more satisfaction from a single Jew praying than He does from the millions of heavenly angels who sing His praises day and night.
On Rosh Hashanah, there are many prayers we recite from the special prayer book, the Machzor. One of these is the Avinu Malkeinu prayer that means, “Our Father, our King.” This moving prayer lists our shortcomings and our needs as we plead for mercy from two perspectives. One is that G-d is our father who loves us and provides for us, so how could we be ungrateful to Him? The second one is that G-d is our king, who has absolute power over us and to whom we owe total allegiance, so how dare we challenge His authority?
Nevertheless, He always remains merciful. Therefore, we take the courage to approach Him from both aspects in our time of helplessness. If we deserve His mercy, let Him be tender as a parent and, if not, let Him judge us as necessary cogs in His empire. When the world sees G-d’s concern for His errant people, His glory becomes elevated and we become closer to Him.
We also listen to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, which symbolizes the depth of our emotions that come out in a cry. It, too, is a form of prayer, an emotional outburst to G-d. There’s a simple message on Rosh Hashanah, that when we cry from the heart, someone listens! That’s the message of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. When words end, the cry of the shofar begins. It is the sound of our tears. Tekiya: the call without words that surrounds all the shofar’s cries. Shevarim: a series of three sobs. Teruah: nine sighs, with which we ask G-d for His forgiveness.
May G-d hear all our prayers and supplications and grant us a healthy and prosperous year. May He hear all our prayers, silent and aloud, and fulfil them so that we will merit to hear the shofar of Moshiach imminently. Please G-d we will see real peace in Israel and all over the world.
Esther Tauby is a local educator, writer and counselor.