Essays by Stan Tenen

The Purpose of Prayer
©1997 Stan Tenen

There are several different forms or modes of prayer.

Basically, HaShem, by withdrawing and producing a "vacant space" (via "tzimtzum"), gives us a portion of His Will. This is the source of our "free will."

When our ability to find a place in the world, by means of our portion of His Will, is insufficient, it is appropriate for us to return our will to His. This is prayer.

All prayers involve some level of sacrifice. The most obvious is the sacrifice of our free will to HaShem's Will in prayer. Prayer is not our getting our way based on our will. Prayer is our asking HaShem to take back a bit of our will and use it Himself, better than we could.

The daily prayers we all say require our time and attention. They are expensive in a busy world. With or without kavanah, this is a sacrifice. When we make it freely, it is accepted.

In fact, no matter at what level of intensity (kavanah), when we freely bend our will to HaShem, our prayers are always answered. Of course, when we are in a state of confusion, as is often the case when we are moved to pray most intensely, we may not be able to see the answer – or we might not be ready to understand how the "answer" is what we were praying for – or the response might be delayed until the timing of related events (we may also have prayed for) is appropriate.

Simple prayer comes from the heart. But, there is also intellectual prayer. In simple prayer we open our feelings to HaShem – no thinking is required. A child's spontaneous cry can be a fervent prayer, and as such, it can open the gates of heaven because of its purity and integrity of feeling.

Most adults cannot easily express their truest and deepest feelings spontaneously, like a child. For adults, intellectual prayer can be more accessible.

What in the intellect can correspond to the emotional prayer of an innocent and whole heart? Sacrifice.

For a peasant whose experiences are pragmatic and earthy, sacrifice, might mean giving up a valued physical possession. This is done from the heart, but also from the intellect. The peasant knows what they are doing.

For a more complex person, sacrifice is more subtle. Here the sacrifice is not (only) from one's property (that would be too cheap for an accomplished person), but rather from what is most valuable to an accomplished person, their ego (or more precisely, the illusions of their ego.)

We all have limitations, weaknesses and deficiencies. We develop skills to survive difficult childhoods and a difficult adult world. Our choices and "skills" form our personality. Some of these "skills" are not desirable. They lead to increased ego and self-centeredness rather than to increased humility and empathy. When there is something so important to us that we are moved to ask HaShem to help us attain it, we can offer to make the job "easier" for HaShem (This is a metaphor, HaShem doesn't need it to be easier, only we do.) by readying ourselves to be aware of, to receive, to accept, and to make best use of HaShem's answer. We can do this by letting go of, giving up on, "sacrificing" some part of our ego or our willfulness or our expectations that are not helping us to see and feel our humanity and our place vis a vis HaShem. (For example, we can sacrifice our ignorance by working to learn more.)

When we want to change the world so badly that we cry out to HaShem, our cry may consist of our changing ourselves by releasing some previously highly-valued part of our ego or willfulness that we have previously been dependent on, that now stands in the way.

The new-agers call it "the manifesting principle" and sometimes that lets them forget that it is HaShem and not themselves that does the manifesting. But, the principle is simple:

  1. Know what you want.
  2. Clearly and precisely understand what you want by doing the intellectual work needed to really know what you want and how much it costs (or how impossible it is.)

  3. Sacrifice your(ego)self to the task.
  4. Put your heart and soul into your endeavor. Do real work in the physical world towards your goal. Care deeply about the work you are doing. Work (and pray) well beyond your normal point of giving up. Do the work and show your caring anyway, even if it seems that HaShem is not listening.

  5. Return your personal will to HaShem. Give up, be infinitely patient, and pay attention.

The manifesting principle only works when a person has made a real sacrifice and has continued to work even while they have let go of their expectations of the outcome they desire. When a person short-circuits the full process, nothing happens. When there has been no sacrifice, there is nothing for HaShem to respond to.

Contents of this page are ©1997 Stan Tenen, and licensed to Meru Foundation,
524 San Anselmo Ave. #214, San Anselmo, CA 94960.
Email inquiries to: