One of the greatest gifts given to the Jewish People by God is the ability to repent – Teshuvah. Part of the Teshuvah process is crying out to God in supplication and repentance. How does one cry out to God?
The traditional form of communication with God is through prayer. The Sages composed the traditional prayer service and hid within its words the secret formulas to unlock the mysteries of the heavens and the gates of atonement. In fact, the Torah in Genesis teaches that God created the world with the words, “Let there be light”. The Kabbalists derive from this that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet possess the power of creation. Therefore, for those who are capable, it is highly efficacious to pray in the original Hebrew syntax.
For those who cannot pray in Hebrew, the Talmud clearly teaches that the prayers can be recited in any language understood by the petitioner. What if the words of the prayer book simply do not stir the heart of the supplicant? Then he should use his own words to cry out to God from the depths of his emotions.
However, what if the person standing before the Creator is so broken with pain and sorrow that he cannot even utter a single word in prayer? What if no sound comes forth from his throat, as hard as he might try to scream out?
King David, in the Psalms, says, “I am a prayer”. What does this mean? For example, when you encounter a homeless beggar on the street with his hand outstretched, palm facing up, he doesn’t need to deliver a fundraising pitch to let you know that he is in desperate need. All you need to do is to take one look at him to know he needs your help. His whole presence screams out to you. This is exactly what King David is saying. His whole physical being was transformed into a supplication without even uttering a single word.
On Rosh Hashanah the sounding of the shofar is our deepest and most powerful prayer because it transcends words and emanates from the depths of every Jewish soul regardless of linguistic or oratorical skill level. The same is true when we join together in a Niggun, which is a song with no words.
On Yom Kippur our fasting transforms our bodies into humble vessels of supplication. Therefore, when we come before God on Yom Kippur with broken hearts and shattered egos, humbly bowed before Him with outstretched hands like simple beggars, we ourselves become prayers. Our very presence cries out to God for health, love, success, peace and salvation. No words are necessary.
May God bless us all with the strength to be able to cry out to Him in whatever way we are best able to and may He answer all of our prayers and seal us all in the Book of Life.
** This essay can be found in Deep Waters: Insights into the Five Books of Moses and the Jewish Festivals