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The Power of Prayer and Action

 

By Rabbi Jill Jacobs

The Jewish world is sometimes divided into “spirituality people” and “social justice people.” The spirituality people, the stereotype goes, like to sit around meditating, or maybe praying if they have a bit more of a traditional bent. They are inward-focused and intent on self-improvement. The social justice people, on the other hand, are hardened activists out to save the world. They have no time for reflection, and no patience for religious practice.

These caricatures reflect the common assumption that prayer and action live in parallel spheres. Instead, prayer and action should complement, support, and provoke one another.

In his essay “On Prayer,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehood. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, and the vision.”

Prayer is subversive when it challenges us to imagine a world other than the one in which we live. Prayer is subversive when the liturgy pushes us out of the synagogue and into the street. And prayer is subversive when it reminds us that human action, alone, will not be enough.

When I recite birkot hashachar—the morning blessings—I thank God for giving me sight, for clothing me, and for providing for our needs. Later in the Shacharit prayers, I praise God for “doing justice for the oppressed.” In the Amidah (standing prayer), I pray for the welfare of the righteous.

Reciting these words can be jarring. Just when I’m getting into the rhythm of the prayers and beginning to find a spiritual connection, I’m jolted back into the real world, with its overwhelming poverty, need, and oppression.

As Heschel indicates, including such themes in the liturgy is nothing less than revolutionary. In the midst of my prayers, I am confronted with a vision of a world that is radically different from the world I know. These prayers force me to imagine that it might be possible to conceive of a world without poverty, without need, and without oppression. Lest I become content with offering small fixes—offering a meal here, donating clothing there, alleviating suffering by donating a bit of money somewhere else—the prayers scream out: No! This is not enough! God wants a world with no suffering and no injustice.

In reciting the words of the prayers, I am also forced into action. The concept of imitatio dei—the imitation of God—has taught me that I cannot simply wait for God to act; instead, God’s actions, as described by the liturgy, demand a human response. If God works to end injustice, so must I. If God alleviates poverty, so must I.

But just as I am about to abandon my prayers and rush out to save the world, the liturgy speaks again: “You alone cannot solve the world’s problems,” it says. “No matter how hard you work, you will not bring about a radical reorganization of the world today, tomorrow, or even in your lifetime.” By demanding that we also rely on God to bring about justice, the liturgy humbles us and comforts us. Lest we start to believe that we can fix the world ourselves, the liturgy reminds us that we cannot. And lest that realization makes us throw up our hands and go back to inward-focused spirituality, the prayers step up to comfort us by offering a relationship with God. In the words and rhythms of the liturgy, we find both the inspiration to act, and the support to continue our work.

.......................................................................

Rabbi Jill Jacobs lectures widely across the United States. She is former rabbi-in-residence of the Jewish Funds for Justice, and author of There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition and the forthcoming Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-on Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community (both Jewish Lights). She has been voted to the Forward newspaper’s list of fifty influential Jews and to the Jewish Week’s list of “thirty-six under thirty-six.”

—————
Abraham Joshua Heschel, “On Prayer” in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, ed. Susannah Heschel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), 263.





There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition

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Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community

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On Prayer Archive

Making Room for Prayer in Our Synagogues
By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Start a Blessing Practice
Edith R. Brotman, PhD, RYT-500

Navigating the Heavens
Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

Sacred Community Within and Beyond the Shul
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi, DMin, and Ellen Frankel, LCSW

Prayer of the (Broken) Heart
Rabbi Anne Brener, LCSW

Why Prayer Works Even When It Doesn’t
Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

C’mon Jews, Let Go!
Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

Open My Lips
Lawrence Kushner


A Mini-Sabbath at Work
Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi (z"l) with Donald Gropman

Prayer: An Eternal Experience
Rabbi Chaim Kramer

Rows vs. a Circle
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

The God Who Is Listening
Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD

Waking Up
Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

A Morning Practice
Nan Fink Gefen, PhD

Preparing for Prayer
Dr. Erica Brown

Prayer—Fact or Feeling?
Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi (z"l)

Medicine, Prayer and Hope
Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD

The Haggadah’s Last Word: A World of Eternal Life
David Arnow, PhD

The Kiddush
By Dr. Ron Wolfson with Joel Lurie Grishaver

The Breath of Life and Prayer
Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Ashrei
By Rabbi Shefa Gold

Blessings New and Ancient—A Living Link to God
Rabbi Marcia Prager

We Pray Better Than We Theologize
By Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, DHL

“Out There,” “In Here”—What's the Problem?

Rabbi Perry Netter

Talking to God
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z"l) with Joel Segel

Learning to Pray from My Bubbe
Dr. Ron Wolfson

Personal Prayer
By Dov Elbaum

Chilean Miner Rescue Gives New Meaning to Old Prayers
Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

The Power of Praying with People
By Rabbi Mychal B. Springer

A Prayer Before I Pray
Harold M. Schulweis

Hebrew as the Basis for Prayer
By Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

With God as My Companion
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

The Healing of the Name
By Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

Finding the Prayer of Your Heart
By Rabbi Goldie Milgram

For People Like Me Who Struggle with Prayer
By Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

I Don't Pray
By Rabbi Rami Shapiro

A Great Miracle Happened Here
By Rabbi Kerry Olitzky

When the Messiah Is Here, How Will Judaism Be Practiced?
By Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman

Transitions in Prayer
By Dr. Ron Wolfson

Cultivating a Personal Prayer Voice
By Rabbi Mike Comins

Becoming a Prayerful Person
By Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD

Praying in God’s Corner
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z"l) with Donald Gropman

Prayer Said by a Partner
By Sandy Falk, MD, and Rabbi Daniel Judson

Gentle Guidance
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Tehinot: Calling Out for Divine Intervention
By Arthur Green, PhD

Breathing Prayer
By Ellen Frankel, LCSW

It's All God
By Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Forgiving God
By Rabbi Will Berkovitz

Yizkor: The Service of Remembrance
By Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur

Teshuvah, Complete and Unending
By Dr. Louis E. Newman

The Kol Nidre: Mirror to Our Soul
By Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Where Does Prayer Fit In?
By Nan Fink Gefen, PhD

The Binding of Isaac and the Binding of You and Me
By Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

Davening with Kavanah
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z"l) with Joel Segel

Prayer as Art
By Rabbi Ralph D. Mecklenburger

The Power of the Amidah
By Rabbi Alan Lew (z"l) and Sherril Jaffe

Lullaby of the Restless Soul
Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

Prayer and Blessings for Social Justice
By Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Acoustics and Intimacy
By Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

Prayer for Sleep
By Sandy Falk, MD, and Rabbi Daniel Judson, with Steven A. Rapp

Paying Attention to Moments of Transition
By Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, DHL

The Prayer Book
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z"l) with Donald Gropman

Longing: Fuel for Spiritual Practice
By Rabbi Shefa Gold

The Serenity Prayer
By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD

Concentration
By Rabbi Rifat Sonsino

Two Faces of God, One Choice
By Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, DHL

The "I-Thou" Relationship with God
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Stuart M. Matlins

Praying God's Prayers
By Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

The Sound of Prayer
By Rabbi Anne Brener, LCSW

Avodat Halev: The Service of the Heart
By Rabbi Ralph D. Mecklenburger

Laugh
By Rabbi Avraham Weiss

The Sea of Ending and Beginning
By Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow and Rabbi Phyllis O. Berman

The Night of Vigil
By Dr. Ron Wolfson with Joel Lurie Grishaver

Hitlahavut
By Arthur Green, PhD

My Favorite Prayer
By Rabbi Rami Shapiro

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Tefilah?
By Dr. Erica Brown

Balancing Silence and Sound
By Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

After the Newtown Shooting: Comfort from Prayer
By Rabbi Dennis S. Ross

Prayer and Meditation: Combining the Two Practices
By Nan Fink Gefen, PhD

The Outcome of Prayer
By Rabbi Rifat Sonsino

People Don't Think Prayer Is Answered
By Rabbi Mike Comins

The First Kaddish
By Rabbi Anne Brener, LCSW

Prayer as Transformation
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z"l) with Joel Segel

Sharing the Spiritual Search
By Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, MSW, MAJCS, BCC

With All My Being
By Karyn D. Kedar

Resurrection
By Rabbi Lawrence Kushner and Nehemia Polen

A Great Miracle Happened Here
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
Edited by Joel Lurie Grishaver

Haneirot Hallalu
By Dr. Ron Wolfson
Edited by Joel Lurie Grishaver

Prayer and Pregnancy
By Sandy Falk, MD, and Rabbi Daniel Judson with Steven A. Rapp

Directing the Heart
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Why Praying Can Help Even If You’ve Never Done It Before
By Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

A Niggun Is a Wordless Prayer
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z"l) with Joel Segel

Have an Ongoing Dialogue with God
By Rabbi Levi Meier, PhD

Prayer Is Not Just for "Believers"
By Rabbi Anne Brener, LCSW

Siddur
By Arthur Green, PhD

Rites of Passage: Continuity and Change
By Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, MSW, MAJCS, BCC

Does Prayer Work?
By Rabbi Aryeh Ben David

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov Taught ...

The Night of Forgiveness, the Day of Atonement
By Dr. Ron Wolfson

God as the Ultimate Writer
By Dr. Erica Brown

Are All Responsible?
By Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Have a Heart
By Rabbi Lori Forman–Jacobi

God Desires Heart
By Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

Please Throw Me a Rope
By Rabbi Alan Lew (z”l) and Sherril Jaffe

The Essence of Prayer in Jewish Tradition
By Rabbi Rifat Sonsino

Healing Body and Spirit
By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD

Tefilat Halev: Prayer of the Heart
By Rabbi David Lyon

Kaddish: Continuing Your Communication with the Deceased
By Rabbi Anne Brener, LCSW

Women in Prayer—Some History
By Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD

Kavvanah—Direction of the Heart
By Arthur Green, PhD

Prayer as Art
By Rabbi Ralph D. Mecklenburger

Saying No to Tebowing:
On Sports and Prayer

By Rabbi Dennis S. Ross

Silent Prayer
By Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Miracles Surround Us
By Rabbi Levi Meier, PhD

One Hundred Blessings a Day
By Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman

Spiritual Goose Bumps
By Ron Wolfson

Choosing Life:
Prayer and Healing

By Rabbi Anne Brener

Changing Self-Deceit into the Quest for Truth
By Abraham J. Twerski, MD

The Importance of Shabbat
By Rabbi David Lyon

Peace of Mind
By Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler


Speed Davening:
Empowerment as a Kid

By Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

The Sea of Ending and Beginning
By Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

The Medium Is the Message
By David Arnow, PhD

Connecting Ritual with Action
By Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Count Your Blessings
By Dr. Ron Wolfson

The Motzi
By Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold

Helping Ourselves
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Walking with God in Israel
By Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

May Our Prayers Never End
By Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

Script
By Lawrence Kushner

A Return to Fruitfulness
By Ellen Bernstein

With God as My Companion
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

“Hearing” Heschel: Social Action Today
By Rabbi Rami Shapiro

A Personal Relationship with Impersonal God
By Rabbi Mike Comins

Individual and Community
in Prayer

By Dr. David Hartman

Blessing: Bringing Possibility into Reality
By Lawrence Kushner

All the World Is a Place for Prayer
By Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD

An OK Jew
By Peter Yarrow

A Most Interesting “Amen”
Edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

Restoring Balance through Personal Prayer
By Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

Avoiding Complacency
By Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, MSW, MAJCS, BCC

Blessings after Eating
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Rabbi Daniel Judson

Spiritual Greed
By Lawrence Kushner

What Matters Most
By Rabbi David B. Rosen

Neshamah Meditation—Experiencing Your Soul Within
By Nan Fink Gefen, PhD

Bedtime Prayers
By Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

Amen: Saying “Yes”
By Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

P’sukei d’Zimrah: The Poetics of Praise

By Rabbi Mike Comins

Moving toward the Light of God

By Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l

The Surprising Appeal of
Kol Nidre

By Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD

At the Edge of the Abyss

By Rabbi Sharon Brous

Past and Future

By Dr. Louis E. Newman

In Dialogue with the Divine

By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

How to Become a Blessing

By Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz

The Need for Prayer

By Rabbi Rifat Sonsino

Love & Prayer

By Rabbi Avraham Weiss

Lullaby of a Restless Soul

By Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

The Power of Presence

By Rabbi Edward Feld

Does God Hear Our Prayers?

By Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold

Finding the Purpose of Our Impediments

By Rabbi Levi Meier, PhD, z”l

The Forgiveness of Sin

By Rabbi Jack Riemer

Prayer as a Spiritual Path

By Rabbi Ted Falcon, PhD

Spiritual Deficiency Syndrome

By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD

God as the Source of All Things

By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

A Prayer for Zion and Jerusalem

By Ari L. Goldman

The Amidah: A Prayer for Doubters

By Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

Silent Prayer

By Daniel C. Matt, PhD

Meditation Coupled with Prayer

By Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz

Breaking the Stumbling Blocks to Prayer

By Rabbi David Lyon

Praying by Imitation

By Rabbi Nancy Flam

Hitbodedut: Alone with God

By Rabbi Arthur Green, PhD

Mi-sheberach Blessings: Connecting to Our Experiences and Our Community

By Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, MSW, MAJCS, BCC

The Haggadah’s Last Word: A World of Eternal Life

By David Arnow, PhD

The Bread of Oppression or the Bread of Freedom

By Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

It Would Have Been Enough

By Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

Avodah: The Path of Prayer

By Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

The Power of Prayer and Action

By Rabbi Jill Jacobs

On Mindfulness

By Sylvia Boorstein

Making Room for Prayer in Our Synagogues

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Navigating the Heavens

By Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

Prayer of the (Broken) Heart

By Rabbi Anne Brener, LCSW

Why Prayer Works Even When It Doesn't

By Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

C'mon Jews, Let Go!

By Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

Open My Lips

By Lawrence Kushner

Prayer: An Eternal Experience

By Rabbi Chaim Kramer

The God Who Is Listening

By Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD

A Morning Practice

By Nan Fink Gefen, PhD

Prayer—Fact or Feeling?

By Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi z"l

... Who Has Made Me a Jew

By Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

The Breath of Life and Prayer

By Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

How to Be Hanukkah Holy

By Dr. Ron Wolfson

Blessings New and Ancient—A Living Link to God

By Rabbi Marcia Prager

“Out There,” “In Here”—What's the Problem?

By Rabbi Perry Netter

Learning to Pray from My Bubbe

By Dr. Ron Wolfson

Chilean Miner Rescue Gives New Meaning to Old Prayers

By Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

A Prayer Before I Pray

By Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

With God as My Companion

By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Finding the Prayer of Your Heart

By Rabbi Goldie Milgram

I Don't Pray

By Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Prayer, Habituation, and Holy Insecurity

By Dr. Erica Brown

The High Holy Days Conundrum

By Rabbi Mike Comins

Who by Fire, Who by Water

By Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman

Repentance: A Lost Art?

By Dr. Louis E. Newman

Other Prayer Resources

A Song Every Day
By Virginia Spatz
http://songeveryday.wordpress.com/

Making Prayer Real
By Rabbi Mike Comins
http://makingprayerreal.com/

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