Why Pray Together?

The car angle has been postponed due to the High Holiday season.

PrayerHave you ever wondered why prayer is done in the synagogue as a group? Out of all the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos, there are practically none that have to be done as a group! The only one I can think of offhand is the mitzvah of hakhel when everyone gathers together at the temple once every seven years - See here for more about this (incidentally this coming year is a hakhel year). But hakhel is all about gathering together, so it makes sense.

But prayer, why does prayer have to be done in a group? So many spiritual people tell me that I pray/meditate at home. The synagogue is too noisy, or there is too much going on for me to concentrate… so why does prayer have to be done in a group? Imagine if you were told that Torah study has to be done as a group. What if I said that charity has to be done as a group? One can (and should) pray even in private if we cannot make it to synagogue. But there are whole sections of the prayers that cannot be said unless there is a group. Why?

One interpretation is that prayer is primarily about developing an emotional bond with Hashem. The way the Torah describes the mitzvah of prayer is that ‘you should serve G‑d with your heart’ in the Shma we are told to ‘love G‑d with all your heart’. Although there is an element of having awe of Hashem, the main focus of prayer is to develop the love.

And here is the interesting part. The first step to learning how to love G‑d is by learning how to love in general. The first step to developing a healthy emotional relationship with G‑d is by developing a healthy relationship with people.

A hermit who divorces himself from the people cannot love G‑d. He or she may be in awe of G‑d and his creation but they cannot love him.

That is why the sages of the Talmud implemented that we pray together as a community. As we develop our emotional side (what is known as EQ) we are preparing ourselves to develop our emotional relationship with the Divine. (and the more we develop our love of G‑d, the more it should express itself in loving people. After all, we are all G‑ds children). When coming to shul and participating in communal life it challenges us to expand our capacity for love and friendship. This is the Talmudic introduction to loving Hashem.

This is very relevant this time of the year (the month of Elul) as we gear up to Rosh Hashana.

The second acronym for the month of E L U L is ‘Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li’ – ‘I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me’. We focus on strengthening our emotional side. We add in prayer - especially prayer together as a community. (Of course if you are looking for a place to pray, we offer a great option J) and we focus on strengthening our capacity to love both G‑d and man.

This is an appropriate way to prepare for the new year, may it bring blessing and success to us and our loved ones.

Shabbat Shalom and ketiva vachatima tova