What is the point of praying?

It is for sure not because Hashem needs/wants it. (Hashem is not lacking in any way he is infinite, and thus does not need our tefillos or our mitzvos)

And it seems that the point of davening is more saying the words then thinking the words -- the proof of that is because davening is not accepted if you only think (and not say) the words and there meaning.

But on the other hand it is accepted if you only say the words and not think the meaning of the words.

So even though I agree that thinking the meaning of the words are important but we see from this that saying the words is more important and the main point of davening appears to be just saying the words.

So what is the point of just saying words?

  • I looked in a Question that looked like my question "Why do we Daven" but when I read all the answers I did not find an answer to my question all I found was: "He has commanded us to pray for our own benefit entirely. See Sefer HaChinuch 433 for some ideas on the topic." My question on that is, how does Praying/Davening help us? – user5224 Jul 2 '14 at 19:57
  • Can you clarify the emphasis on your question? Do you want to know why we daven at all, or why do we do it 3 times per day? – DanF Jul 2 '14 at 20:00
  • Sorry if I did not make it clear enough. The question is "why we daven at all" – user5224 Jul 2 '14 at 20:01
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    related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/30262/759 – Double AA Jul 2 '14 at 20:02
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I once heard the following explanation:

The word to pray is להתפלל, which is the passive reflexive of פלל, judge. So להתפלל means to cause one's self to be judged. The purpose of prayer is to put yourself before Hashem and test how sincerely you see Him as the source of your needs.

So, indeed, the prayer is not "for" Hashem, nor is it to make sure He knows what you need. It is for yourself.

In response to edited form of question:

This would still require performing the act of davening, just like in any Mitzvah with a given purpose, you still have to do the action. If you were to know the "message" of lulav, you would still have to take the lulav and not just meditate on the message. This is true of all mitzvos1. There are a number of explanations for why this is true, but Sefer HaChinuch explains this to be because it is through the actions that we internalize the message of mitzvos, and the same would apply for this mitzva as well - in order to make it real to ourselves that we are standing before Hashem, we have to actually do it.

Nefesh HaChaim discusses this point explicitly, specifically regarding davening - the mitzvah of davening is fulfilled only through the speech aspect of it, and yet it is called עבודה שבלב, service of the heart. Just like in every mitzvah the mitzvah is only fulfilled through the action of the mitzvah, so to in davening the fulfillment of the mitzvah is through the action, even though the "idea" of davening is focused in the heart.

End of 2:1

מנם כל עיקר ענין טהרת הלב. היא רק למצוה ולא לעכובא גם לענין התפלה אף שנקראת עבודה שבלב כמו שנתבאר קצת לעיל סוף ש"א שהעיקר בכל המצות היא המעשה

End of 2:14

הגהה: והגם שהלכה פסוקה בש"ס שתפלה נאמרת בכל לשון. היינו לצאת ידי מצות תפלה כמו שנתבאר לעיל סוף ש"א שבכל המצות ואפי' מצות תפלה שנקראת עבודה שבלב. עכ"ז עיקרן לעכובא הוא חלק המעשי שבהן. אמנם למצוה מן המובחר ודאי צריך לצרף גם טוהר המחשבה וכוונה שלימה.

1One could ask the same question about any mitzvah - "If I shake a Lulav and don't think about it at all, I have fulfilled the mitzvah, but if I think about every message and lesson involved in the mitzvah and don't do it, I haven't fulfilled the mitzvah. So what is so inherently special about shaking a palm frond?" The act of the mitzvah may be the basic framework of the mitzvah, but the intent put into the action is what directs that action and gives it meaning. See Nefesh HaChaim quoted later on in this answer.

  • So according to your logic if you have a mindset of what you need and that it is in Hashem's will when and how he is going to give it if he does. Another Problem with most of these answers are that if you do not know the Perush Hamilos then it is pointless to daven (everyone knows that you should know the meaning of the words of davening but it is not a chiyuv and your davening is still good and same vice versa if you don't say the words and only think the words and there meaning you have not fuffilled the chiyuv so it makes you wonder the main point of davening is in the words – user5224 Jul 2 '14 at 20:32
  • @user613 - While you make a good point in that last comment, that you should understand the words, perhaps you may want to accept the answer based on just that, not on what, sadly, happens in reality. Personally, other than the required parts of the davening (such as Shma, Shmoneh Esreh), it would be more effective for people to say less and understand and mean what they say rather than go through the motions and mumble words that are there. When my kids mumble a bracha on food (that's davening!) instead of answering "Amen", I answer "WHAT were you trying to tell Hashem?" ;-) – DanF Jul 2 '14 at 21:05
  • My point was that it seems that the point of davening is more saying the words then thinking the words (and the proof of that like I said above is because davening is not accepted if you only think the words but it is accepted if you only say the words and not think the meaning of them so even though I agree thinking the words are important but we see from this that saying the words is more important and with that why should we just say words what is the point of that? – user5224 Jul 3 '14 at 1:45
  • source: R. Hirsch in Horeb. Also in R. Shimshon Dovid Pinkus in Shaarei Tefilah (in the chapter entitled פלילה) – הנער הזה Jul 3 '14 at 3:42
  • @user613 see edit. And in the future, it is courteous to let an answer poster know when you alter the question in such a way that their answer no longer is complete. – Y     e     z Jul 3 '14 at 20:16

you could make your question stronger by applying the same question to every mitzvah and not just davening. consider what is a need? what is a weakness? why should I care?

consider, what is a need? What does it mean what the Torah talks in terms of G-d's right arm, G-d's eye, etc. We are told that we are created in G-d's image in this way human beings were made to reflect our creator. What exactly does that mean? We know the G-d does not have a human body so how does being created in his image tell us anything useful? Consider a doll. If you pulled the arm off of a doll would it hurt the doll? of course not! The doll isn't real and the arm isn't real. The arm isn't real because it's just a plastic arm. Is my arm real? Is this flesh and bone a real arm? Consider for a moment that our arm is the imitation. When it says we are created in G-d's image we are of a physical substance not G-d's substance like the dolls arm is plastic and not flesh. This means that my arm isn't really a real arm but an imitation of an actual arm like the dolls arm is an imitation of me.

Now consider, what is a need? How do I know what a need is? Is a need something I require or I will pass away or is a need another character trait that makes me human? Consider a doctor who is treating patients all day long. If the doctor doesn't eat he will not be able to continuing treating his patients. At that point the doctor must eat. He says to himself I need to eat. This isn't a need but a weakness. His real need is to continue being a doctor but is not capable of doing so unless he eats. When talking about G-d's needs. It's important to not confuse those with weaknesses. G-d's existence is perfect and not reliant on anything. A need is not what sustains G-d's existence. What we often confuse for a human need is actually just a weakness required to sustain our existence. G-d requires nothing to sustain His existence. Int his way when we refer to G-d's needs we aren't referring to human weaknesses but a real need.

G-d being omnipotent, infinite, omnipresent, etc, etc gives us mitzvahs and expects us to preform those mitzvahs. Imagine a mother who tells her son to make for her tea at lunch. For 20 faithful years this loyal son makes his mother tea everyday at lunch. At one point the son finds out his mother doesn't drink the tea, throws it out and instead drinks the coffee made by his brother. When he asks his mother and she responds, I didn't need the tea but I wanted to give you a chance to get closer to me. How close would the son be to his mother? NOT AT ALL. His brother who made the coffee his mother actually wanted would be closer. All this time he had been involved in his mother's life in a way she didn't need him. He thinks he is becoming close to his mother by being involved in her interests but is more distant than ever because making tea for her isn't necessary at all. Would G-d give us mitzvahs to fulfill if he didn't need them? (chas vashalom) So when you talk about G-d's needs and what G-d needs from us. We aren't talking about a weakness or a false need. We are really talking about a need.

No finally consider that in order for a relationship to be a relationship rather than slavery you must be able to say no to being involved with the relationship. If someone loves you but you don't love them back then their is no relationship it is all one sided. G-d gives us the ability to say no to him. This way if and when we do say yes to G-d's love for us we are actually part of a relationship. In addition to being infinitely powerful G-d's need for us to do mitzvahs and need for us to be in a relationship makes him infinitely vulnerable. When G-d opens himself up to us with his G-dly needs and his G-dly vulnerability how can we have any response other than love back for our creator and father?

I hope that I was able to present this in a way which is easy to understand. I realize it is a lot of information all at once. If anything I said wasn't clear please refer to a website 11213.org which will perhaps do a far better job as it contains audio lectures.


Because it changes your perspective! Praying helps you reset your internal GPS and re-think where your priorities should lie. That's why praying works - the person who finishes praying is different than the person who began praying. This new person may now deserve things which he did not deserve several moments prior.

Secondly G-d wants the best for us, part of this is that he wants us to have a relationship with Him and daven to Him. Think of it like opening a spigot on a barrel. There can be much in it but you can't access it until the spigot is opened. To continue this analogy one doesn't need many spigots, the sum of what you get is the same. On a related note, Hashem waited to grow crops until man davened for it. Just to make sure that man would appreciate where it was coming from. Prayer was crucial in this process.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya, where we value sourced answers. – msh210 Jul 3 '14 at 23:59
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    (this question I do not really care if it is sourced or not) Look at the end part of my question. How does it answer it? – user5224 Jul 4 '14 at 0:14

The simplest answer is that we pray because Hashem commanded us to. See here, #22, #23 and #24.

Whatever He gets out of it is the same answer to what He gets out of any Mitzvah, and prayer isn't unique in that regard.

That being said, when it comes to prayer, it intuitively feels like there should be more to it than that. Answers to that span volumes. Rabbi Nissan Mindel explains (based on Moreh Nevuchim) by praying we are establishing to ourselves that G-d is in charge of the outcome, not happenstance. That is the simplest end of the explanation. On the other end is the Kabbalistic one, that prayer changes the very relationship between G-d and the world, with many other ways in-between.

The idea that in Davening the point is only to say the words without intention, this is not true. Although besides a few things understanding the specifics of the words being said, if davening in Hebrew, is not necessary, it has been well argued before that a general intention of standing before G-d is required, but that is really a topic for a separate question.

  • (Note that only according to the Rambam is it a chiyuv min hatorah to daven everyday and I am pretty sure according to the Meiri and the Ramban it is not I have to double check everything but I will do that later) – user5224 Jul 3 '14 at 1:51
  • According to Rabbi Nissan Mindel's answer lichora it does not make sense because if the main point of davening was that: "we are establishing to ourselves that G-d is in charge of the outcome" then as I explained before and in my original question. It should be based on the thought on the words and not the actual words because thinking the words make you think that hashem is in charge of the outcome but just saying the words that does not fulfill that concept – user5224 Jul 3 '14 at 1:55
  • @user613, according to most Rishonim, davening in a time of need is Min Hatorah (I'm pretty sure including the Ramban). The Rambam is unique in holding it is every day. The Baal HaTanya points out that even according to those that say it is MiDerabannan, it has in it the Mitzvos Min HaTorah of Ahavas Hashem and Yiras Hashem, but that is another discussion. – Yishai Jul 3 '14 at 2:10
  • (you are right that Ramban hold's in time of need) Most times when we daven we daven not out of need I feel. It says in Likkutei Torah (Maamarim by the Baal haTanya)Parshas Balak Maamar D"H Lo Hebet Oven Biyaakov that davening is midrabbanun (hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=16093&st=&pgnum=279 (Ose Beis in the beggining) "ב והנה עבודה שבלב זהו תפלה והיא דרבנן ואינה ממנץ המצות" – user5224 Jul 3 '14 at 2:17
  • @user613, even if it were MiDerabannan (and Likkutei Torah often explains opinions that are not the Halacha) that doesn't really change my first paragraph, or the answer generally. – Yishai Jul 3 '14 at 2:19

Davening is too broad/general an experience to have merely one answer to the question of why we do it. As Rambam explains (someone link it here), the sequence of Tefillah is: shevach,bakashah, and hoda'ah. At each of these various stages, we are alternately praising God and acknowledging hakaras hatov, being mekabel ol malchus shamayim and ol mitzvos, recalling important historical experiences like yetzias mitzrayim, asking for our needs to be fulfilled, and a whole range of other kavanot behind the 'words we say.' Thus, there is a unique 'point' to each and every one of these spiritual exercises, but tefillah has too many to have one general point. (feel free to edit this for grammar).


here are some commentaries on chovos halevavos ch.3 which explain this

Chovos Halevavos: "Second, the inducing by the understanding does not lead to the recognition of active obligations in the service of G-d such as prayer"

Tov Halevanon commentary: Without the torah, the intellect does not understand the benefit of prayer. Because G-d will not change nor be affected by his prayer. And if the man is not worthy of the good [that he is praying for], due to his [insufficient] deeds, how can he possibly entice G-d with his words, and ask before Him to grant him his request? And if he is worthy of the good due to his deeds, certainly G-d will not corrupt justice, and will not withhold support to a righteous man. But from the torah, we see that the forefathers and the prophets (who were exceedingly righteous) were answered in their prayers. And we were commanded on it, and it is a positive Biblical commandment according to that view, as the Talmud (Taanit 5a) expounds on the verse "to serve Him with all your heart": "what service is with the heart? This is prayer". And even though our understanding falls short of being able to grasp its full matter, just like the understanding does not understand other precepts in the torah. Likewise, for the fast which we fast on Yom Kippur which atones for all our sins. And for Tzedaka (charity) as a certain heretic asked Rabbi Akiva (Bava Basra 10a): "if your G-d loves poor people, why doesn't he support them?", etc. until he brought the verse: "Is it not to share your bread with the hungry...[Then shall your light break forth as the morning]" (Yeshaya 58:7), see there. Likewise, tithes and acts of kindliness is because of this...

Manoach Halevavos commentary: If we were not commanded in prayer by the torah and the Rabbinical decrees, we would not know through our understanding what would be the order of the tefila, shacharit (morning), mincha (afternoon), and arvit (evening), and the other times. And even prayer itself, the understanding does not dictate that we should pray to G-d, because the understanding obligates that G-d gives to each creature and each thing in the world the portion fitting for it. And if it is not fitting for it, prayer should not help in this. Furthermore, according to the divine wisdom (Kabala), and the Moray Nevuchim wrote on this (Part 1 ch.5), that G-d does not "change". Hence, the whole matter of prayer seems to the understanding as if there is "change" in G-d, similar to a request which a man begs before a flesh and blood king, to arouse favor and pity in the heart of the king. All this does not apply by G-d. Therefore, he wrote that if the torah did not command this, and that we did not see from the torah that prayer does help, regarding the prayer of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, and others, and that our Sages did not institute its order, we would not know at all through the understanding neither its order not its matter. The reason we have been commanded in it is hidden, it is among the hidden precepts of the torah. It has great benefits to arouse a person to awareness of G-d's existence, and His almighty power, and that it is proper to serve Him, and many other fundamentals and good traits which are aroused through prayer. In kabala it is known that by a hitorerut (stimulus) from below, one causes a hitorerut (stimulus) above. This is sufficient for the wise person.)

  • How does any of this answer the question which is why thought is insufficient, yet (he assumes) empty words are sufficient? – mevaqesh Apr 24 '17 at 0:31

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