Pray This Prayer

LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you.
— 2 Samuel 7:27

When David said the word “pray,” he used the Hebrew word palal, which means, for the most part, what we typically ascribe to that word: to intervene, interpose, intercede.

However, this Hebrew word also can mean: judge.

Huh? Are we judging something when we pray?

Maybe, we are entering into judgment when we pray. Maybe we are asking God to judge us. Search our hearts. Weigh us. Measure us.


THEN, when David said “this prayer to you,” he used the Hebrew word tefillah.

This same root word is actually used for something called T’fillin (leather sets of prayer garb wrapped around one’s arm and head) that some observant Jews use during prayer sessions. This is in response to Deuteronomy 6. A prayer reminder that God is One. To remember God in all things. It is THE central prayer in Judaism. It’s called the Shema, because Shema is the first word of the prayer.

It means “hear.” But it also means “listen.”


The first word of the most central prayer in Judaism means LISTEN!

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
— Deuteronomy 6:4-9


OK. Back to tefillah.

What’s the difference between palal and tefillah?

What’s the difference between pray and prayer (other than the verb/noun difference)?

In rabbinic conversations, tefillah taps into something more and utterly different than “prayer requests.” Tefillah is not just requesting to receive from God, or even requesting that someone else receives from God, as in intercession.

Tefillah is an all-the-time, all-of-life kind of thing.

The Hebrew term tefillah actually has nothing to do with receiving from God.

The core idea of tefillah is “to discern what is in oneself.”

Listen. Discern. Prayer.


Like King David, pray (palal) this prayer (tefillah) to God.

PalalInvite God to judge you.

Tefillah. Discern what is inside of you.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
— Psalm 139:23-24