How Should Gentiles Pray?
Rabi Moshe Ben-Chaim
At Mount Sinai 3333 years ago, Moses received not only the Bible, but the Oral Law, “Mishna,” which is the elaboration of Biblical law. Mishna’s necessity is due in part to the Bible’s cryptic and brief style. God designed the Bible intentionally cryptic to enable our exploration via Bible’s clues into greater wisdom than can be contained in a single book. This is a thoroughly enjoyable pursuit and the greatest of all commands.
For example, Bible discusses prayer, but not the formal prayer text, allowable times of prayer, suitable places, and our preparedness like pausing before prayer, and dressing appropriately. What must our prayers include on sabbath as opposed to weekdays and holidays? Mishnah and rabbinic laws detail all these matters. This system of Jewish law is called Halacha, derived from the word halach, “to go” or “to behave.” Halacha guides Jewish behavior in all areas of life. This guidance makes us think about each daily action, thereby engaging our minds when not in pursuit of wisdom through study. The purpose of every command is to imbue man with greater wisdom of God; our actions are a barometer of our convictions. So, although the ideas we learn are paramount as these ideas draw us closer to God, action must follow as a demonstration of our conviction in those ideas. Halacha guides our actions.
But as a gentile is not obligated in Torah, and since he equally perfects himself if he should follow Torah—and more so if he converts—what shall a gentile’s prayers include?
Jews are obligated to share Bible with the world, as this week’s essay clarifies (see “Why God Gave the Bible”). A gentile is equal to a Jew; all mankind descends from one original couple. Therefore, his prayer should not differ. There are in print many english prayer books, “siddur.” The gentile who is moved to reach out to the Creator should pray just like the Jew. The only difference he should make to refrain from false statements, is to omit “God of our fathers,” as the gentile’s father was not Abraham. He should exchange that phrase with “God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob,” omitting “God of our fathers.” But the remainder of the prayer orders our requests in a sequence of importance for all mankind and should not be changed. Reciting Psalms should also be followed as the Jewish prayer books outline.
Gentile and Jew must recognize the true God and eliminate all false notions about God. Otherwise one prays to a fantasy, and fantasies cannot respond. One must understand that God is the sole creator, He is not physical, He does not occupy space; He has no location: not inside or outside the universe. He simply exists. He is merciful, all powerful and all knowing, He loves truth, and desires our repentance. This is achieved by recognizing actions that violate Torah, having regret, and resigning oneself to never repeat those actions. One must know that God hears our prayers and he needs no intermediary; we pray directly to Him, and we praise Him. Thus, no one should pray to Jesus, place notes in graves, or in the Western Wall. God knows our thoughts.
We must be honest when standing before God in prayer. If we follow His will, nothing prevents Him from granting us what we need to follow Him. So our requests must follow the Torah lifestyle. Asking for tremendous wealth would be contrary to our true goal of exerting greater energies in study than in amassing wealth. From the Bible’s miracles, we must know that as God controls nature, He manipulates His world to help the righteous person. So we pray that He heals the sick, but we don’t pray for a miracle, as God designed the universe to operate perfectly without miracles. Rather, we pray that God’s design of human healing is invoked. As we can work to earn a living, we don’t pray that God makes us find gold or diamonds. We don’t pray for what we can achieve ourselves, as it is God’s will that we are not lazy, and that we exert ourselves to follow His plan for man to work.
Torah—Bible—is for every person. The Jew is obligated to make it available to everyone. God designed one mankind, and gave only one religion. This is reasonable. As we are all identical beings, an identical system will ensure the most fulfilling life for us all.
I urge the Jewish reader to make an effort to share Torah with gentiles, and I urge the gentile reader to continue your inquiry from Jews into God’s will as outlined in His Bible.