Answering the Question "Why pray?"
by Rabbi Mike Comins
In my work with TorahTrek Spiritual Wilderness Adventures and as a congregational rabbi, I felt the need for a Jewish book on prayer that distinguished between prayer-in-general and liturgical prayer, a book that asked “Why pray?” before “Why these prayers?”
When I pitched the idea to Jewish Lights, publisher Stuart Matlins agreed, but suggested that I get some help. Within a few months, I had interviewed some 50 passionate Jews on the nitty-gritty of their prayer lives. The contributors shared their personal struggles and triumphs. My own views on prayer were challenged, deepened and transformed.
This process resulted in a unique, hybrid of a book. One the one hand, Making Prayer Real is a typical, one-author narrative: here is the problem, here is how to deal with it. But the views of 50 others are woven into every chapter, resulting in a level of depth and nuance that I never imagined possible. Readers responded with enthusiasm; the book went into a second printing a month after publication.
The MPR Course Curriculum
In order to teach the book online, I developed the MPR curriculum. I soon realized that to attain maximal impact, I needed to make the curriculum available to other teachers for use in their communities.
I invited four Southern California colleagues to pilot the course in 2012, and a second group of eight from around the country taught the Course in 2013 and 2014. Along the way, I re-interviewed the contributors to the book, this time on video, so that students could augment the book with additional teachings in a pleasing, visual format. In addition, the curriculum was tweaked and refined according to the comments and advice of both teachers and students.
I learned from those teaching the curriculum that the videos are fruitful in many venues beyond a class on prayer, such as adult education classes, confirmation classes, community retreats, Havurah gatherings, parent meetings in the school, divrei Torah for committee and Board meetings, etc. I have also become aware of a growing need for compelling, accessible Jewish content for clergy-less gatherings. To this end, each module has a series of specially edited, shorter videos, entitled “Conversations,” to catalyze high-level discussion on Jewish topics with or without the presence of a professional Jewish educator.
In 2016, the MPR Course curriculum joined the HUC-JIR College Commons, where it may now be purchased.
What will I receive when I purchase the MPR Course curriculum?
You will you be licensed to download:
See the MPR Course Syllabus and Sample Videos pages for a list of session subjects, video topics and video contributors.
What are the terms of the MPR Course license?
The MPR Course materials are provided for the exclusive use of your institution, and may be used in any activity sponsored by your community. They may not be copied or lent to other institutions or individuals. (That’s the only way we can make our business model work.)
How do I know if it’s worth licensing?
Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision on this website. In addition, the pilot teachers have graciously agreed to serve as references and speak with or email colleagues regarding the MPR Course. Read a sampling of their comments on the Teacher Reports' page. Contact us for their contact information.
Through video, some of the world’s most inspiring teachers are brought into the classroom. The MPR Course features video montages of over 40 leading Jewish spiritual voices on prayer, often presented with commentary by Rabbi Mike Comins. Just like the book, the contributors speak from the heart; they bring interesting content in an interesting way.
Many students are weary of New Age language and do not possess a spiritual vocabulary. The MPR contributors demonstrate the responsible use of spiritual language. They role model the discussion that will follow in your classroom.
The videos begin a conversation that students easily join. The contributors bring multiple perspectives into the discussion with intelligence, nuance and heart. Everyone finds someone they resonate with, and often, someone with whom they do not. The videos stimulate high-level thought and discussion among the participants.
How do synagogues present the MPR Course?
One synagogue taught all 20 lessons over a 22 week period. Others held a weekly class spaced over the academic year. Most taught the curriculum over two years, meeting one to three times monthly. One synagogue presented each module as an intensive; one month on, one month off.
Some taught the entire curriculum. Others chose the lessons most relevant to their community. Unbeknownst to me when I began, the curriculum turned out to be highly flexible. Most lessons work well as stand-alone sessions.
Must I teach all 20 sessions?
This depends on your goals. The MPR Course was created to change the culture of prayer in our communities for the better. If this is your goal, it is recommended that you teach as much of the curriculum as possible in a consistent time frame. When the theory behind the MPR approach to deepening prayer is presented to students, which only makes sense as part of an ongoing class, the ability of the Course to transform individuals and communities increases exponentially. While most lessons stand on their own, the sum is greater than the parts. Having said that, teachers are encouraged to adapt the curriculum materials to their specific needs. The videos are useful in a variety of settings.
A New Approach
Most of the recent work in transforming synagogue worship, such as Synagogue 2000 and 3000, addresses what happens on the bima and other changes in programming that the leadership might make. The Making Prayer Real Course compliments this approach by addressing the individual praying person. The curriculum challenges people to take ownership of their prayer lives, and provides them with the tools to do so.
This leads to changes that are dramatic and subtle at the same time. Students report sea-changes in their experience of prayer. To the outward observer, however, the effect is subtle, as people participate in the same service they attended previously, only now experience prayer differently.
Can the MPR course change the culture of prayer in my community?
It will be several years before we can answer the question with authority. What we know now from the pilot classes and other reacher reports is the following:
Changing One Heart at a Time
My hypothesis is that change occurs over time as a growing, core community of skilled and motivated daveners creates a connection with clergy and an atmosphere for soulful prayer. This might well lead to changes in the way services are conducted. And it might not. The primary change agent is not what happens on the bima.
The process is labor intensive as it invests in the individual. The culture of prayer is changed one heart at a time. The MPR Course does not offer a quick fix. (If there is one, please let me know!) However, the effects are deep and long-lasting.