The most important tefillah is the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6. Tefillah is found 67 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Tefillah in Hebrew means ‘prayer from the heart.’ The root of tefillah is palal and has its foundation in the prayer of Pinchas (Phineas) and means ‘to judge’ (Numbers 25). Pinchas was a Levitical high priest who stood against idolatry and ‘judged’ a Midianite woman and Israelite man whose marriage had brought a plague upon the Israelites. This suggests that tefillah is the ‘judging of oneself before a holy God’ through self-examination.
The word tefillin comes from this word and they are a pair of black leather boxes containing Hebrew parchment scrolls. A set includes two—one for the head and one for the arm. Each consists of three main components: the scrolls, the box and the strap. Jewish men ‘bind’ tefillin onto their head and upper arm every day to fulfill “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 4:6). Tefillin is an incredibly powerful mitzvah (command). Putting on tefillin has changed many people’s lives.
Hebrew Word Pictures
ת Tav – Crossed Sticks means ‘sign’ or ‘covenant.’
פ Peh – A Mouth means ‘speak’ or ‘source.’
ל Lamed – A Shepherd’s Staff means ‘to urge forward.’
ה Hey – A Window means ‘reveal’ or ‘behold.’
The Hebrew Word Picture for tefillah: speaking sign urging forward revelation.
There are several parts to Jewish prayers that have their foundation in the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitz’ak (Isaac), Ya’akov (Jacob) and Moshe. They include intercession as well as supplication.
The amidah, known as ‘The Standing Prayer’ acknowledges standing in the presence of the Creator with reverence and fear. This prayer has its foundation when Avraham stood before God discussing and questioning His plan for Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Avraham approached and said, “Will you actually sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23)
The sichah brings us into a personal, intimate, and quiet conversation with Adonai, the loving and compassionate Father and Friend. This prayer has its foundation in the prayer of Yitz’ak for his wife’s barrenness.
“Yitz’chak prayed to Adonai on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. Adonai heeded his prayer, and Rivkah became pregnant” (Genesis 25:21).
The pegiah confronts God and appeals to his mercy and compassion toward our broken and fallen state. This prayer has its foundation in Ya’akov’s prayer in Genesis 32. He was afraid to meet his brother, Esau, and he prays to God.
“Then Ya‘akov said, “God of my father Avraham and God of my father Yitz’chak, Adonai, who told me, ‘Return to your country and your kinsmen, and I will do you good’: I’m not worthy of all the love and faithfulness you have shown your servant, since I crossed the Yarden with only my staff. But now I have become two camps. Please! Rescue me from my brother ‘Esav! I’m afraid of him, afraid he’ll come and attack me, without regard for mothers or children. You said, ‘I will certainly do you good and make your descendants as numerous as the grains of sand by the sea, which are so many they can’t be counted‘” (Genesis 32:9-12).
The chinam, meaning ‘free,’ reminds us that prayer is a generous gift and anything we receive from the Father is freely given to us, we don’t deserve it. The foundation of this prayer comes from Moshe praying to God to allow him to enter the Promised Land. According to the numerical value for the title of the Torah portion, Va’Eschanan, it has been suggested Moshe pleaded 515 times. Even as the most humble man on earth at the time, Moshe’s request was not granted.
““Then I pleaded with Adonai …” (Deuteronomy 3:23) .
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