So if prayer is to be a wild, untamed expression of our deepest longings why all the rules?
Why pray at certain times?
Why all the restrictions about what to wear or what words to say or in what direction to face?
Why not give the natural human inclination to pray full expression?
The truth is that in spite of what you were taught in day school or cheder, much of that spontaneity is allowed and even encouraged.
Here are the words of the Rambam (Maimonides) at the beginning of the laws of Tefilla (Mishnah Torah 1:1):
…There is no Biblical minimum of prayers…There is no Biblical text for prayer…nor is there a fixed time for for prayer mandated by the Torah.
Yet in spite of such flexibility, present day practice of Jewish prayer is quite different. It’s regimented and rigid, and is often sadly hijacked by misconceptions and authority figures who have no idea what the essence of prayer is.
This sad state was already known anonymous Talmudic sage who sadly observed that people fail to comprehend the depths of prayer (Talmud, Brachot 6b).
What the rules are intended to do however is to transform my prayer into a powerful act of rebellion and mastery.
And that’s where we’ll pick up in the next post.