Rabbi Shimon said … When you pray do not make your prayer a form of routine but a plea for mercy and supplications before G-d, for it is written (Joel 2:13), "For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing." (m.Avot 2:18)
This is the first mishnah we have seen in our study of Pirkei Avot that deals with prayer. Rabbi Shimon says that we should not make our prayers “a form of routine.” Rabbi Eliezer agrees with this statement. He says, “If a man makes his prayers a fixed task, it is not a [genuine] supplication” (m.Berachot 4:4). However, if one is not familiar with Jewish prayer, one would think that it is “a form of routine” or even “vain repetition” that Yeshua refers to. Unfortunately, many within Messianic Judaism feel that reciting prayers from the siddur qualifies as such. We should reconsider this way of thinking, because it only pushes us further away from the faith and practice of our Master Yeshua and his disciples.
Jewish prayer, particularly from a Messianic perspective, is anything but vain repetition if one is properly engaged. It engages the petitioner on three levels: 1) It serves as a gateway to the past, 2) It provides power for the present, and 3) It generates hope for the future. Let me explain …
As a gateway to the past, Messianic Jewish prayer connects us to the Holy Temple and the divine service that took place within its walls. It gives us a connection to the faith of the patriarchs and the worship that took place in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. It reaches into the ancient past and connects us with those who have gone before us: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Yeshua and the Apostles. It places us in the midst of the “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in the book of Hebrews.
Messianic Jewish Prayer strengthens the present, giving us a tool by which our souls can transcend the mundane nature of our daily lives and connect to the Living G-d. It serves as a means of empowerment by which we can overcome even the most bitter of life’s trials. It is a powerful weapon we can wield against the adversary.
Messianic Jewish Prayer anticipates the future Redemption when King Yeshua will reign from Zion and all the nations will bow before him. It reminds us of our hope of the Messianic Kingdom which is yet to come and our responsibility to work towards that realization. It allows us to envision our reality not as it is, but as it one day shall be. Praying the liturgy of Israel also shows that we continually long for the redemption of Jerusalem and the world.
Scripted prayers aren’t routine or vain repetition in and of themselves. Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Eliezer, representing greater Judaism, are in agreement that making our prayers routine is not acceptable, yet their discussion was in relationship to how the scripted prayers were to be engaged. The act of prayer, however, can become routine through a lack of kavannah (focus, intent). Even impromptu prayers can become routine. We tend to fall into a pattern of language and phrases with our prayers whether we intend to or not. Does this mean we have made our prayers routine and vain repetition? Not necessarily. However, when we adhere to the the Talmudic dictum, “Know before whom you stand,” our prayers can ascend to the throne of heaven, rather than falling to the ground. When the people of G-d are involved in and dedicated to Messianic Jewish Prayer, we will see the world transformed before our eyes. Maybe not this moment. Maybe not even tomorrow. But day by day we will see the unfolding of His Kingdom as we serve Him with a unified voice of praise, adoration and supplication.