One of the more paradoxical daily obligations of a Jewish male is the thrice-daily prayers.
On one hand, what an incredible spiritual sensitivity our sages had in enacting a system where one must constantly take pause in order to connect with one’s Creator.
On the other hand, what a nearly impossible task to recite the same words each day, three times a day, and attempt to make the experience meaningful!
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, in his introduction to his commentary to the prayer book, sees prayer through a much broader lens. He writes the following:
“True prayer only comes through the awareness that the soul is always praying. Is it not soaring and nestling with its beloved (Hashem) in a constant union? When one actually stands in prayer, the constant soulful prayer is revealed to the world.” (Olot HaReiya, Inyanei Tefilla Bet)
According to Rav Kook, the assumption that a Jew prays three times a day is incorrect. We are always engaged in prayer, though we may not realize it. On an inner level our soul is constantly reaching out towards its Creator, desiring true good for itself, for the Jewish people, and for the entire world. Standing in prayer and speaking the words instituted by our sages (as well as adding our own prayers) gives a framework for the small, still voice in our hearts to be actualized.
The real challenge of prayer, then, is not only saying the words with feeling, but learning to listen to the quiet whispers of our soul. When we reach greater awareness of the prayers in the recesses of our hearts, there is no doubt that the experience will be as our sages had in mind, a vehicle for the expression of our most noble desires.