What is the role of intellectual analysis in the world of prayer?
On the one hand, analyzing the prayers is not the same as
davening and can actually get in the way of the experience of
prayer. On the other hand, a deeper understanding of the meaning
of prayer and of the content of individual tefillot enhances
that experience. As illustration, Rabbi Carmy shows how analysis
teaches us to differentiate between the praises of hallel
and of pesukei de-zimrah as well as between the
thanksgiving of the amidah and that of birkat ha-mazon.
Indeed, a musician cannot perform a piece of music if he or she
has not studied the piece beforehand.
Is petition for basic human needs central to the act or prayer?
Rav Soloveitchik answers in the affirmative. In explaining this
position, Rabbi Carmy cites Karl Barth who argued that "only
in this way is there any safeguard that the real man comes before
God in prayer." Rav Kook disagrees and downplays the
prominence of personal petition. Yet both of these rabbinic
luminaries would demand cultivating inwardness as the gateway
to a successful prayer.
What is the balance between the communal and the individual
in prayer? Halakhah clearly plays great value in communal prayer.
This both enhances kavvana and insures that prayer not become
an "entirely selfish affair." At the same time, "a
spiritual lifestyle, conducted completely in the glare of communal
space, is liable to marginalize those features of religious existence
that are predicated upon inwardness and self-examination."
This is a particular danger in contemporary Western society where
a herd mentality often eviscerates any real individuality. Rabbi
Carmy advocates not making the "communal dimension
shallower" but building up "the intimate, individual side
in whatever way possible."
to read the essay (PDF 2MB).