In Jewish faith, people pray many prayers from their own heart, and in their own words, where only God hears. They also pray many prayers together, with words written down for the community to pray through all their days and generations. These communal prayers come from the hearts of the individual people whose eyes read them and whose mouths say them, and also from something bigger than anyone: the heart of the whole community.
Whether a person is simple or extremely knowledgeable, each one stands at the centre of the community, and yet also on the periphery looking in. Each one is teaching, drawing others closer to the middle; each one is being taught and drawn closer as well. Each one has the experience of Hashem and His light as their own experience, and the story of His ways runs in their veins. Yet each one also says the words loud enough that they can hear theirself, listening to something beyond all they have experienced on their own.
It’s not to say that praying is a time meant for learning. It’s a time of being with Hashem, opening the heart for an offering to Him. Yet the soul can’t help but listen in. The words written and spoken by those before us can remind us of awe. They can show us beauty. They can even speak of events and ideas that seem hard to truly test the reality of. A person seeking to be honest may struggle to say prayers that thank God for things that they never witnessed with their eyes and can’t prove beyond a shadow of doubt. But in communal prayer, the selfhood that listens in is reasonable in the surrender it chooses. It listens and responds, and yet knows it is truly a part of the nation whose God is Hashem. The hearts and mouths of all people, every simple Jew or gentile who accepts that they have seen genuine light in Yiddishkeit, raise the offering of a single altar. They speak as a single, eternal witness, regardless of what each individual has seen or deduced alone.
There is honesty and humility in this, drawing close to the reality of our subjectivity before truth, and choosing to draw our individual souls, hearts, and words closer to the covenant miracle of a message held by a community together. There’s a time for both kinds of praying, both kinds of honesty about what we know and how we know it.