I am curious about the meaning of, “in our/my thoughts and prayers.”

I use the phrase myself. When I use it, I mean that I will mention someone’s name when I recite the Amidah or a mi shebeirach for the sick. Occasionally I will tell someone I am reading Tehillim for them, meaning that I am reading Psalms while holding them in mind.

I do these things as a recognition of the suffering of another. It’s not as if I think God will fail to notice suffering unless I mention it. It is a promise that I will notice.

The Hebrew for “to pray” is l’hitpallel, a reflexive verb. It literally means “to pray oneself.” Prayer is not something we do to God: it is directed to God, but the effect should be on the person praying. So when I say, “I will pray for you” what I mean by that is, “I will work on myself on your behalf” β€” “I will work to care more about you.”

Sometimes I say it when I don’t know what else to do for a person. Implicit in the Jewish idea of prayer is the idea that if I see something I can do, I will do it, because I have been praying and I care even more than when I first spoke.

Telling someone I will pray for them is therefore a commitment: “I will remember you, and I will continue to work to grow in care for you.”

I am less clear what the phrase means when others use it, especially when those others are from other traditions. I am curious about it, because public figures often use the phrase. I am tempted to write to them and ask: “Dear elected official: Exactly what did you mean?”

I am writing this on a smartphone, because my back is out again and I cannot sit at my computer. I apologize for any mistake or roughness that may result.