Conversations with God
When the heart is full of gratitude, there is prayer.
When the soul is full of pain, there is prayer.
When it seems there is no one to talk to or nothing to say, there is prayer.
Jewish prayer gives wings to our emotions and words to our yearnings. It has the power to uplift, articulate, and clarify. Formal prayer is important; the Jewish prayer book is a window into many core concepts of Judaism that warm the heart, challenge the mind, and excite the soul. In addition, praying informally, personally, and often, can be a deeply rewarding exercise in spirituality and in our relationship with God.
In this meaningful, touching, and deep book, Ruchi Koval has explained and added personal connection to some of the most fundamental Jewish prayers, as well as created and adapted some new ones for contemporary Jewish women.
In Jewish sources, prayer is referred to as “service of the heart.” With this unique book, we can open our hearts to G-d, our families, and ourselves.
Topic: Talking to G-d
Ashrei p. 40
Shema p. 48
Mi Kamocha p. 57
Adon Olam p. 94
Using a journal, jot down what your perceptions of G-d were growing up. What was
told to you about G-d as a child? Journal your perceptions of what G-d is or isn’t, and
how they have changed as you’ve grown through the various stages of your life.
Recall who or what has influenced those perceptions.
“Where is G-d? Wherever you let Him in” (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).
Share stories or examples of seeing the hand of G-d in your life – where you could
have chosen to see randomness or coincidence.
“Like a father has mercy on his sons, so may G-d have mercy on us” (Rosh Hashanah
The Torah has many paradigms for a relationship with G-d – G-d is like a parent, like a
friend, like a king, like a spouse. Discuss the various ways G-d is like each of these
things and ask participants which one resonates with them.
● Different people are wired differently – some have a deep abiding faith while
others are more skeptical. Which are you and how would that affect prayer?
● Do you think it’s better to pray in English if Hebrew is difficult, or should you
push yourself to use Hebrew?
● What are the pros and cons to praying from the formal liturgy vs. talking to G-d
in your own words in a spontaneous way throughout the day?
● What do you think is the purpose of prayer?
● How can talking to G-d improve your relationship with Him? Can a parallel be
drawn to communication in human relationships?
Topic: Thanking G-d for the Good – Gratitude
Focus on the past
Modeh Ani p. 25
Asher Yatzar p. 26
Gratitude After Eating p. 99
Hamotzi p. 132
Psalm 100 p. 199
Using a journal, write 5 things you are grateful for right now – and to whom. Now
write when is the last time you expressed gratitude to them for that thing. Jot down
why you think it’s hard for people to remember to express gratitude. What are the
obstacles and how might they be overcome?
“Once again Leah became pregnant and gave birth to another son. She named him
Judah, for she said: Now I will praise the Lord!” (Genesis 29:35).
Explain how the name Judah is based on the Hebrew word “to thank.” Discuss why
Leah was especially grateful for this child and point out that the Jews’ name –
Yehudim – comes from this trait. This word also means “to admit” and “to confess.”
Explain the connection.
“Dead people receive more flowers than the living because regret is stronger than
gratitude” (Anne Frank).
Ask participants: how does this quote make you feel? Does it motivate you to do
better with gratitude? What specific commitment would you like to make?
“Who is wealthy? One who is happy with what his portion” (Ethics of the Fathers
It’s so much easier to notice what we don’t have than to be grateful for what we
already have. Why is this? Why do you think G-d made human nature such that we
often take our gifts for granted?
● Thanking G-d is one of the three major ingredients of prayer. The three are:
thank, praise, ask for requests. Most people, however, think of prayer only in
terms of requests. Why do you think that is?
● What time of day feels best for you to say “thank you” to G-d: just as you get up,
when you eat or drink, or before bed? Ask participants to establish a daily
● Look back at a year ago. What are some gifts or blessings you have now that you
didn’t have then? Remember to say thank you.
● In what ways do we appreciate being recognized or thanked by others? How can
we bring those ingredients into our prayers? (Some ideas are specificity,
spontaneity, sincerity, and regularity.)
Topic: Asking G-d for Our Requests – Help
Focus on the future
Amidah specifically p. 61-74
Prayer for Peace p. 181
For Self to Remain Healthy p. 186
Dealing with Suffering p. 192
Psalm 130 p. 202
Using a journal, write three things that you need help with right now – from the big
to the small. Rank them in order of importance. Now try to remember what your
“wish list” looked like a week ago. Journal what you can remember. How about a
month ago? A year ago? Five years ago? How many of your wishes have been
fulfilled? Now create a list of three people you know whom you would like to pray
for. What are their needs? Try to include others’ needs in your prayers.
“Throw your burden onto G-d and He will support you; He will never allow a righteous
person to falter” (Psalms 55:22).
Describe to your participants the emotional relief that occurs when you unburden
yourself to another. Now ask them to imagine unloading onto G-d – the ultimate
Power. Explain how unloading to a dear friend, who is unjudging, impartial, and
always available, is a metaphor for our conversations with G-d.
“I entreated G-d at that time: the word ‘entreated – v’etchanan’ and its derivatives in
all cases is an expression that denotes asking for a free gift. Even though the
righteous may base a request on the merit of their good deeds, they request only a
free gift of G-d” (Deuteronomy 3:23 and Rashi).
Ask your participants: should people ask G-d for the things they want and need
because they deserve it? What about doing good deeds just before prayer, like giving
tzedaka? Is this disingenuous? Should G-d grant us free gifts, for no reason? Tell the
story of Moshe begging to enter Israel – did he not deserve it? Why did G-d say no?
“The purpose of prayer is not to get us out of trouble. The purpose of trouble is to get
us into prayer” (Rav Yitzchok Hutner).
Explore with your group the effect that turning your worries over to G-d has on you.
If the point of Judaism in general, and prayer in particular, is to become more
bonded to G-d, how does asking G-d for our wish list achieve this? Could we achieve
it equally when everything was going well?
“And she was bitter in spirit, and she prayed to G-d, and wept. And she vowed a vow
and said: to Lord of Hosts, if You will look upon the affliction of Your bondswoman,
and You will remember me, and You will not forget Your bondswoman and You will
give Your bondswoman a child, and I shall give him to G-d all the days of his life…”
Share with your group the story of Chana and her prayer for a child. Guide your
participants to a discussion about making deals with G-d. Does it seem ethical to
barter or “bribe” G-d? Have you ever done it? What were the results?
● What do you think, relating to the story of Chana above, about crying while
praying? While considered virtuous in Judaism, some people are “criers” and
others are more emotionally closed. Ask participants if they feel one should
purposefully try to become emotional in prayer – or does that simply seem
● Do you think it’s more virtuous to ask G-d for things when we already have them
(asking Him to continue those blessings), or to turn to G-d when in pain? Which
form of prayer is easier for you? Which brings you closer to G-d?
● What are some things you asked G-d for and got – that you now regret? Consider
the quote, “be careful what you pray for; you might get it.”
● Is there anything you are embarrassed to ask G-d for, or feel is too small or silly?
What are those things? Do you think those feelings have validity?
● If regular prayer is not currently a part of your life, how could you use moments
of pain or lack and turn them into moments of prayer?
Topic: Praising G-d – Saying Wow!
Focus on the present
Baruch She-Amar p. 38
Yishtabach p. 46
Kaddish p. 83
Alaynu p. 86
Kiddush p. 129
Life is full of moments that make you stop and say “wow!” Consider what some of
those moments have been for you. Create a list in your journal of moments that
have filled you with wonder and majesty at the incredibleness of the world we live
in. Is it nature? Art? Music? Science? Poetry? Childbirth? As you list categories or
moments that have filled you with wonder, link that emotion to G-d and meditate on
the fact that G-d created this world – and those wondrous things – just for you.
“How wondrous are Your works, G-d; You have made them all with wisdom!” (Psalms
Ask your participants what is the most amazing thing in nature they have ever seen.
Have them describe the emotions that filled them in that moment. Was the moment
spiritual in nature? If yes, what did that feel like? If not, how could we link it?
“Sometimes you’re feeling down/Things haven’t gone your way.
So you’re looking all around/To find someone who’ll save the day.
There’s one Place you can turn/He’ll never turn you back.
When you look to Hashem/You’re always back on track.
‘Cause Hashem loves you/You’re His greatest pride.
Yes, Hashem loves you/He’s always by your side.
You can see it too/All the good you have inside.
It’s up to you/All you need is to decide.
“Hashem Loves You” (Goldwag, 2012)
This song describes the great love G-d has for us and the confidence He has in us. Are
these ideas you were familiar with growing up? Is this a concept that’s hard or easy
for you to believe? Do you consider G-d’s great love for us to be deserved, or an
undeserved gift? In other words, is G-d’s love conditional?
“The crimes of religion have one thing in common. They involve making God in our
image instead of letting Him remake us in His” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks).
Lead a conversation about being in “G-d’s image.” What does that mean to your
group? How have religions corrupted this idea over the years to harm others? How
can we become more amazing by using this idea?
● Do you think the Jewish people has done a good job transmitting the idea that
G-d loves us? Have you ever heard a Jew say this publicly? Whom have you
heard say or display this idea publicly? Discuss.
● Where do you personally see G-d the most in your life? How could you turn that
into a prayer?
● Is there a person you know who reminds you of the phrase “made in G-d’s
image”? In what way is that person G-dly? How does that inspire or change you?
● Do you feel that you have enough opportunities in your life to experience the
“wow” moments that fill you with the wonder of G-d’s universe? If not, what do
you resolve to change?
● How can we create a culture in which people are more comfortable with the
Jewish concept that G-d love us?