Prayer helps us realize that God is the source of life and existence. Asking for health, wealth and dignity forces a person to contemplate how he will use these gifts.
A teenage girl knocked on our door one Sunday morning, offering a free copy of a local newspaper. I declined, since I did not like that particular newspaper. She then asked if I would like to buy a subscription. (Obviously she was not a student of logic – if I did not want a free copy, I was certainly not going to pay for a subscription!) Not deterred by my refusal, she then begged me to reconsider. I asked her why she was so desperate to sell the paper, and she replied, “If I sell two more subscriptions I will win a Diskman, and I really need one!” Now, had she said that she was saving up for college, or helping to support her family because her father was unemployed, I would have been more sympathetic – but fulfilling her “need” for a portable CD player was not something that I felt required my contribution.
When we pray, we should ask ourselves, “Is this a frivolous request? Will I use God’s gift for a positive purpose? How have I used the gifts He has given me until now?” Prayer, therefore, involves an appraisal of one’s life, a reality-check. This idea is reflected in the Hebrew word lehitpallel to pray. The verb “pallel” actually means “judge,” while the prefix lehit makes the word reflexive. The correct translation of “lehitpallel,” therefore is “to judge oneself.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch describes prayer:
It is the means to step out of active life in order to attempt to gain a true judgment of oneself, that is, about one’s ego, about one’s relationship to God and the world, and of God and the world to oneself. It strives to infuse mind and heart with the power of such judgment as will direct both anew to active life – purified, sublimated, strengthened.