Ask A Jew: Wasted Prayer

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What questions do you have about Judaism? Submit them online, or fill out the form below. 

By Elizabeth Goldstein

I’ve heard the term ‘wasted prayer’ used in Judaism. What does it mean?

The term is not so much of a “wasted blessing,” as it better translated and understood as a “ blessing for nought” or a nullified blessing. In Hebrew it is a “bracha l’vatala,”  from the word nullification-like we nullify our leaven before Passover. 

A blessing for nought usually refers to the idea that for every action we want to sanctify in Judaism such as eating an apple, we say the blessing “Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, sovereign (or less hierarchical, if you prefer—Spirit) of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.” The power of the blessing is strong and we expect that a person will be intentional about directing the appropriate energy toward making the blessing.

A wasted blessing, as the questioner terms it, would be adding a second blessing or assuming the first blessing doesn’t work so a person does it again. This would be considered wasted or for nought. The blessing has power in and of itself. It has power whether a person is directing the correct energy toward it or not. The message from the tradition is: Don’t squander your opportunity to bless the divine by forgetting, or doing it a second time because you weren’t paying attention the first time. Do it with intention. Don’t “waste” an opportunity for blessing. I hope those of you who celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and who are diving deeply into introspection this Jewish month of Elul, are taking all of your opportunities to bless God for the gifts that we have.

And if you are not Jewish, nor on the path to be Jewish, I hope you take the same opportunities to gratefully acknowledge all we have from the most precious gifts to the most seemingly simple, such as the gift of a first bite into an apple. 

About Elizabeth Goldstein

Rabbi Elizabeth W. Goldstein is a progressive rabbi in Eastern Washington and an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University. She specializes in Biblical and Jewish Studies with a focus on Gender Studies and Judaism. Rabbi Goldstein also serves Jewish students and faculty as the Jewish Chaplain in the Office of Mission and Ministry at Gonzaga University. In addition to her responsibilities at Gonzaga, Elizabeth leads monthly Shabbat services: Friday nights at Gonzaga and Saturday mornings at Temple Beth Shalom. She travels to Richland, WA and Moscow, ID as a visiting rabbi and scholar and is working on building a monthly interfaith service through Spokane Favs. To see where she is and when, please visit her website
Goldstein is currently working on her third book and is most grateful for her four amazing children and her beloved wife, local healer and writer, Kimberly Burnham.

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