I think most frum Jews feel uncomfortable with the word pray. If you hear a frum Jew saying, “I am going to pray”, he’s being facetious, as if he said he had to put on his phylacteries (That’s tefillin.)
Daven, a Yiddish word with unknown origins, is the go-to verb for that.
Perhaps that’s because pray means asking for things, strictly speaking. (“Pray tell…”) And our davening has so much more than that. Asking for stuff is but a fraction of what we do. That’s why of all the 30 prompts, I find this one the hardest to write about, even though I do it so frequently.
I have heard it said in the name of Rav Mordechai Gifter ZT”L that the most important word in any bracha or tefilla is the word “Ata”, “you”. As in “Baruch Ata…”
What’s so impressive about that word?
Well, in many languages, the answer is clear. When addressing someone of higher stature, the custom in most languages is to evade the regular 2nd person conjugation.
In French, “tu” is modified to the plural “vous”.
In German, “du” becomes the formal “sie”.
In Polish, one refers to the person in the third person. “Would sir like a cup of tea?”
There are even examples in Tanach of people speaking to the king in the third person.
Yet here is our King, the King of Kings, and we just say, “atah”, plain ol’ “you”.
Even the English style of making it “You” with a capital “Y”, or “He” with a capital “H” likely comes from the King James Bible, and is not in the spirit of the Hebrew.
Just “you”, the way one would talk to a close friend, with whom one is on excellent terms.