Spiritual Exercise

Video 1 – Understanding Prayer: Heart, Mind and Soul

In this video, Rabbi Sacks explains how prayer is to the human spirit what exercise is to the human body.

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 button in the bottom right-hand corner to select the required language).

Prayer is to the human spirit what exercise is to the human body. I try to do my 10,000 steps a day. I don’t always succeed, but I feel bad when I don’t, because I know, with my sedentary lifestyle, that if I don’t exercise, all sorts of things will go wrong. I’ll put on weight, my muscles will grow weak, my blood pressure will rise, and my life expectancy will decline. I’ll lose years from my life, and life from my years. And yes, 10,000 steps on a treadmill can sometimes be pretty boring. But you do it because you know what will happen if you don’t.

And the same is true of prayer. It’s just that we don’t have the same kind of precise measurements for the spirit that we do for the body. It’s not that easy to quantify the feelings of happiness, fulfilment, meaning, gratitude, pleasure, delight, joy. But they make a difference. In fact they make all the difference to the sense of blessedness, of a life well-lived. And we now know, thanks to the research of people like Martin Seligman, Ed Diener, Sonja Lyubomirsky and Tal ben Shahar that happiness, the flourishing of the human spirit, has an effect on health and life expectancy. It strengthens the immune system. It’s correlated with success in education, career and relationships. It turns us outward and makes us less likely to suffer from loneliness and despair.

It’s just that we seem to have forgotten that prayer is to the spirit what physical exercise is to the body. Meditation, yes. Mindfulness, certainly. They are the fashionable things, and surely there’s nothing wrong with them. Jewish prayer, when it’s done the right way, is a form of meditation and mindfulness.

But it’s also so much more, just as happiness is so much more. It’s more than a moment of serenity in a life otherwise punctuated by stress, anxiety and disappointment. Jewish prayer is about gratitude and resilience and forgiveness and love. It’s about song and dance and exuberance and joy. Go to a Jewish wedding and you’ll know what that means, and sometimes prayer should feel like a Jewish wedding. It’s about celebrating life.

The spirit needs prayer the way the body needs exercise, and sometimes prayer can be boring, the way exercise can be boring, but you do it because you know that it’s going to make you feel energised, focussed, revitalised. It’s going to make you a better, larger, deeper human being. For the better part of four thousand years Jews have been among the world’s experts on the human spirit, and much of that has to do with the way we pray. So join me in this series of short videos and let’s learn what prayer really is and how it can change your life.

This video was kindly sponsored by Denis and Michael Aaronson, in memory of their parents Freda & Leslie Aaronson.

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