Gem of the Week from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch: The Essence and Purpose of Tefillah


Jewish tefillah does not fit the common definition of “prayer.” Tefillah is not an outpouring from inside, an expression of what the heart already feels. It is infusing the heart with truth that comes from outside yourself. Tefillah is avodah shebalev. The word “mispallel” means to work on refining one’s inner self, to elevate one’s mind and heart to recognize the truth and desire to serve G-d.

If this were not the case, if tefillah were just an expression of our emotions, it would make no sense to have fixed times and written texts for our prayers. How could we assume that all members of the community would have the same thoughts and the same emotions at the same predetermined times?

It follows, then, that the purpose of our fixed prayers is to awaken our hearts and revive within them all the timeless values that still need reinforcement and special care. One can truly say that the less we feel “in the mood” to daven, the greater our need to daven—and the greater the value of the self-improvement that we perform through tefillah.

The absence of “being in the mood” for prayer is the surest sign of an ebbing spiritual vitality– a quality that is not the basis for tefillah, but its goal.


A Freilchin Purim, and have a wonderful Shabbos,

Moshe Pogrow


Ani Maamin Foundation

Please note: The “Gem of the Week,” is based on excerpts from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s commentary on Chumash, with permission from the publisher.