The word te•fi•la comes from the biblical root “P.L.L.” Every verb and many nouns in Hebrew come from a core root. The verb “to pray,” le•hit•pa•lel, clearly shows the connection to the root letters:
“Now when Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven,”
The word ‘praying’ in this verse is “to pray” and not the adverb ‘praying.’
The essence of prayer in the Hebraic mindset is twofold. It isn’t just requesting something from God wholeheartedly. This kind of deep appeal to God is only one aspect of prayer. The other aspect is to utter from the heart through the mouth or to utter solemnly without voice words of praise and worship to God.
A great example of prayer that demonstrates this two-fold Hebraic mindset is found in the Lord’s Prayer. Its first two verses are words of praise and worship:
“Pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.” The latter verses include appealing to God with requests of human nature: “Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen”
This is an excellent example of how Jewish the New Testament really is.
Now let’s show you how Hebraic the English language can be when it comes to prayer!
Remember that a prayer is an appeal to God. Look at the word ‘appeal’ and compare it to the Hebrew root letters of prayer: P.L.L. Do you see the connection?
Need another example just to beat the possibility of coincidence? Here you go!
Look at the first part of this verse: “Whatever prayer and supplication is made by any man” (I Kings 8:38). See the other word English uses for human appeal to God – supplication. Check it out closely: supplication.
Once again, you can’t miss the Hebrew root connection. Even the word “prayer” itself testifies to the second aspect – prayer begins with the same letters as praise. Furthermore, the next letters in both words, I and Y, are phonetically identical in Hebrew and identical phonetically in English as well as in many occasions.
You may have seen Jewish people wrapping their left arms and their foreheads with leather stripes, housed in a small leather box. This set (for the arm and the forehead) is called te•fi•lin, and the singular is te•fi•la (phylacteries). The same as prayer. It is called so because it includes four prayers (Torah portions) of the Old Testament, beginning with Deuteronomy 6:4-9.