Before asking any conceptual question concerning tefila, it is of utmost importance to emphasize that prayer is, first and foremost, a natural inclination of every human being. Prayer expresses the longing, the basic desire within every person for an encounter with something different, something found beyond himself. This natural tendency stems from a sense of dissatisfaction with what one has, from a desire to find a more complete and more meaningful existence. The most basic form of prayer emerges in times of crisis, when a person senses that he might lose something, or when he wishes to achieve something, to progress, and he realizes that the issue does not depend entirely on him. In a situation where one feels that even after investing all his effort he does not have complete control, he naturally turns to something, to some entity, in an appeal for assistance. It turns out, then, that prayer was established the moment the human being, a creature with limited strength and capabilities, was created; from the moment he was placed on earth, he needed to pray. Jews did not come up with the idea of prayer. It had existed since time immemorial. Ancient man took note of his weakness in relation to nature, and therefore turned to it, nature, in prayer. He offered sacrifices to the sun, moon and stars, thinking that they have control over him, that he must plead with them for compassion. He was too foolish to understand that everything on earth is under the supervision and control of a single God. But the requests and appeals themselves reveal the basic, instinctive feeling that man has that he is but a guest in this world, that nothing guarantees his continued existence, no one can personally ensure his personal and financial security. He must therefore turn to a something greater than himself to ask for his very life.
Prayer, therefore, is the instinctive tendency of the human soul. This tendency includes not only pleas for compassion, but leads one as well to express thanksgiving and gratitude that he feels he owes the God who helped him escape a dangerous situation, or resolve a complex dilemma. The tendency to express gratitude is a real, natural tendency, just as a person naturally feels the need to thank a friend who helped him. Even if saying “thank you” will yield no practical benefit, a person nevertheless says it automatically, without any second thought, as a purely natural instinct.
Prayer has gradually developed over the years. It slowly became institutionalized, liturgical texts of pleas and songs were composed, as were prayers of supplication and thanksgiving. Houses of prayer and altars were erected; the religious feeling within the human being drove him to make prayer the focal point of his life. The prayer ceremonies developed, and prayer transformed from an instinctive emotion without any form or structure, to an established, well-developed institution.
There is much that can be said concerning the permanent routine of prayer, both in terms of the times in which one must pray and the formal text to be recited. Nevertheless, prayer must not be seen as something that one must do solely because of the obligation to pray. Rather, it must take its place at the center of a person’s life, in the form of this feeling that prayer is natural, an absolute necessity that results from the basic condition in which the human being lives.