Video 3 – Understanding Prayer: Heart, Mind and Soul

In this video, Rabbi Sacks focuses on the concept of praise, a central element of Jewish prayer.

As we approached Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 2017, Rabbi Sacks created a series of ten short videos to delve into what prayer really is, and how it can change your life.

Each video includes subtitles in: English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Spanish (click on the 'Settings' icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the video-player to select your preferred language).

It is said that Eskimos have fifty words for snow. I’m not sure about that, but this I know: that Hebrew has many, many words for praise. Lehodot, lehallel, leshabeach, lefa’er, leromem, lehader, levarech, le’aleh, ulekales, and others. Because just as Eskimos live in the midst of snow, so to be a Jew is to live amidst the praise of God. It’s our element, the air our spirit breathes, the music the Jewish soul sings. We gave the English language the word 'Halleluyah' - “Praise be to God,” and the book of Psalms remains the most beautiful poetry of praise ever written.

Jewish prayer always starts with praise. It takes different forms in different services but it’s always there before anything else. Why? Because on the bad days we can be distracted by worry, depressed by anxiety, clouded by fear. We turn in on ourselves, as if we were shut in a small, airless room, unable to see the sunlight or breathe the free air. I’m the last person in the world to minimise the seriousness of depression. Along with Simon and Garfunkel, I know what it is to sing, “Hello darkness, my old friend.”

Which is why prayer as praise is so important. It says: Don’t look in; look out. Don’t look down; look up. The world is full of light, said the Jewish mystics, if we only know how to open our eyes. The Psalms are a symphony of praise. Listen to this from Psalm 148:

“Praise the Lord from the heavens,

Praise Him in the heights. Praise Him, all His angels,

Praise Him, all His hosts.

Praise Him, sun and moon,

Praise Him, all shining stars.

Praise Him, highest heavens and the waters above the heavens.”

And this from Psalm 150:

“Praise Him with the harp and lyre,

Praise Him with timbrel and dance,

Praise Him with strings and flute…

Let all that breathes praise the Lord. Halleluyah!”

These Psalms say: see the glory of creation. Look at all the beauty that surrounds you. Listen to the song of a bird. Look carefully at the beauty of a tree, its leaves shimmering in the breeze. Pause and inhale the sheer miracle of being. Remind yourself, slowly, gently: I am here. The universe is here. I am alive. I am free. I am capable of love and I am loved. And I will praise the force that made all this and allowed me to be here and see it.

Then feel the restlessness subside, the striving cease, the pulse slow, and know for a moment the sheer blessedness of being. All you need for happiness you already have. It’s there, waiting to be uncovered, in the secret places of the soul. Praise is where the journey into happiness begins.

Among my favourite lines of poetry are the words of W. H. Auden about the power of the imagination to liberate us from negative emotion:

In the desert of the heart

Let the healing fountain start.

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden.

This video was kindly sponsored by Lundy & Fred Reynolds, in honour of their grandchildren Milo, Kieran, Banyan, Ryan and Elora, who are a daily blessing to them.

We are grateful to our generous sponsors who helped enable us to produce this video series.