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A Wish and a Prayer

09/06/2022 08:48:02 AM


Rabbi Brad Levenberg

Having entered the month of Elul, the Hebrew month that precedes our High Holy Days, it would be wise to keep in mind the custom of approaching these days with intentionality and reflection. Anew this month I began to explore the difference between a wish and a prayer. And, as this is Elul, a thought began to emerge.

In the end, what separates a wish from a prayer is the point to which it is directed. After all, wishes are magic and mystery, and the petitioner makes a wish and the granter is often one who is quite unlike us, possessing some ability that we do not understand. Meanwhile, prayer is inward-looking. The Hebrew word “to pray” is L’hitpalel and is reflexive. Thus, asking God to do something for us is more like wishing; asking to discover something ourselves is praying.

 As Harold Kushner writes:
"We can’t pray that You make our lives free of problems; this won’t happen and it's probably just as well. We can’t ask You to make us and those we love immune to disease, because You can’t do that. We can’t ask You to weave a magic spell around us so that bad things will only happen to other people, and never to us...But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of they have lost, very often find their prayers answered. They discover that they have more strength, more courage than they ever knew themselves to have."

With wishes – and prayers – for a Shabbat Shalom,


Sat, December 10 2022 16 Kislev 5783