Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, the Emanu-El Scholar at San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El and visiting professor of Jewish Spirituality at the Graduate Theological Union, and Rabbi Nehmia Polen, professor of Jewish thought and director of the Hasidic Text Institute at Hebrew College, Boston, have come together to offer their interpretations and insights into Jewish prayer drawing from the Torah, Zohar, and ancient and contemporary Hasidic masters. These reflections on the words that compose the Jewish liturgy are tailor-made for anyone seeking spiritual nourishment. The concepts, phrases, and words of prayer covered include acts of love, healing, repentance, reverence, Torah study, yearning, the Hidden God and many more.
Blessing is important in the Jewish tradition. Kushner and Polen explain why:
"The one who blesses becomes an agent of self-realization and fulfillment for the one who receives the blessing. We 'conjure' a blessing. Even for God. And when we 'bless' God, since God is the source of all life, we effectively enable the Holy One to bless us. In blessing God, we are blessing ourselves!
"The one who offers a blessing is like a coach whispering to an athlete before a competition, 'You can do it!' More than encouragement, positive spin, or sincere wish, the words of blessing literally bring forth and make real an otherwise unrealizable force. In this way, blessing is not supplication but symbiosis. God needs us to summon blessings, just as we could not live without them."
Our lives are not only enriched by blessings but also by our yearning for unity with the Holy One. The authors see prayer not so much as an act of petition or a plea for divine intervention as it is "a gesture of uniting our will with God's." Whether writing about the lighting of candles, the purpose of meditation, or the need to serve God in happiness, Kushner and Polen open our eyes to the mystical meanings that lie behind these devotional acts.