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Thoughts & Prayers

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.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

13 thoughts on “Thoughts & Prayers”

  1. Everything you said rings true for me and I appreciate clearing the cobwebs about this. People say and write this all the time. I think when you said,” 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.”, it is a good shorthand for me. I add their name to the healing list at Temple, I include them in my loving kindness meditation, and send a positive energy out to them. I include them where I might not have on another day. I would love to know how this is meant, by people of other faiths. I do think this phrase has become the easy, correct response for many. That it is an intention of caring, and if there is no more action than the actual few words of response, at least it is in the right direction.

  2. I also wonder what people from other traditions mean, what they are thinking about and praying for, and if it is the same as what I would pray for or if it is something else entirely. When I use those words I mean them as an acknowledgement that I am aware of the difficulty or suffering and that I am hoping for the best possible outcome.

  3. Like you Rabbi Ruth, Telemevbarg and Daya Solomon I also wonder what others mean by “I will pray for you.” I typically say, “I will keep you in my prayers and meditations,” because I agree the act of praying is an action by me directed to G-d for my benefit. I may choose to remember other people in my prayers as a means of my emotional and compassionate growth. In any event, I like to believe the speaker, no matter how it is said, is communicating something thoughtful and heartfelt during a difficult time and is truly sincere.

    Rabbi Ruth, I wish you a good healing and you will be in my prayers and meditations! Shalom.

  4. “I will keep you in my prayers and meditations” is a lovely phrase and covers everything very gently and beautifully. Thanks for that. Meanwhile, Ruth, I hope you’re getting excellent medical care for your back and sciatic nerve (ghastly pains, both) in addition to all our prayers and meditations!

  5. the whole concept and process of prayer is elusive and fluid for me; you have put words to how I feel about praying and saying i’ll keep another in my prayers, because I think it helps us grow in empathy and compassion to keep others in our thoughts. Prayers for your refuah shleimah, Rabbi Adar!

    1. It is valiant of you, Rabbi Adar, to continue to teach so effectively while flat on your back. And clearly your insights resonate in the hearts and minds of many. Please be sure, though, that by continuing to give of yourself so selflessly you are not undermining your recovery. We need you at full strength! Shabbat Shalom!

      1. Thank you, Rabbi! I hear you, about rest. Still it is a relief to have a way to do work that I love in between the naps and the physical therapy. Shabbat Shalom to you as well!

  6. Rabbi Ruth,
    Thank you for this….over the last days and weeks I have noticed some discussion regarding politicians(of all stripes, in the U.K. And US)and much of the tone seems to be one of frustration, that “words and phrases” are not enough. Not going into the specifics of why the people concerned said this….but I can see how it *can* be a phrase which seems to come too readily to the lips of those in positions of authority: perhaps I shouldn’t feel that way, but honestly, it does feel like that at times. I recognise that no doubt there is much going on behind the scenes, about which the people concerned cannot go I to detail, and and I understand that.

    But, to give a specific example, in the UK there is a weekly session called Prime Minister’s Questions, which almost always begins with this phrase. It definitely feels….uncomfortable, and a platitude. That’s just me….maybe Im horrible, I don’t know.

    On a personal level, if I have a friend or someone I know who is going through problems, I always ask if it’s ok to keep them in my prayers. The reason I do that is because I remember how it made me feel when anyone said “I’ll pray for you” or “G-d bless you”. Here’s an admission….I hated it and it made me extremely uncomfortable. This was in a secular/nominally Protestant social circle….I was born, but not raised, Jewish.

    I only became observant four years ago: I remember how uncomfortable I used to feel, and would hate to make anyone else feel like that…..hence,
    I ask. Just a personal thing.

    Bottom line, as the saying goes….in all honesty, it does seem (to me)to be something which is said when a political sound bite is called for, which is unfortunate…..

    Hope this is ok. And may you be pain free and comfortable soon.


    1. Replying to myself with something I forgot…..”our hearts go out to….” Is in a similar vein, I feel. Something to say when they don’t know what to say, but have to say something…..


    2. The discussion online about politicians using the phrase was the impetus behind my post, Alex. A lot of people were getting angry at their use of the words but it made me wonder just exactly what were they saying?

      Point well taken, about asking. I always ask before touching anyone (offering a hug or assistance) but you have definitely given me something to think about.

      1. Rabbi Ruth,
        Thank you so much….just to say I didn’t mean there to be any implication of any kind about whether to pray for someone, or ask….just reading that I realised that it might have come across that way, and I *so* did not intend that! Purely my own experience, and my background is( to put it bluntly) messy. Lots of stuff….and a big, big tendency to take blame when it was something which was in no way shape or form my fault.
        Apologies if it came across at all like that

      1. And an enormous cat hair garnished hug(if that’s ok) of thanks for that πŸ™‚ Shabbat shalom from the wild wild windy rainy east coast of Scotland(still slightly wary of online posting on Shabbat in a place where the person does not go online during Shabbat…..I do, for a multitude of reasons, but I try to respect those who don’t, hence, I try not to email or message anything to those who don’t.
        And…..I got me a battery menorah! Still have the lovely pottery cat which Alastair got me, and it will sit beside it. Better check the batteries…..
        With thanks

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