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Be Redundant
by L'chaim
Cn u rd ths? Of course you can. Why? Because communication is redundant. In fact, without redundancy, we couldn't communicate. How so?

When we receive a message, our brains take the series of words and processes them; once processed, we understand the meaning of the message. But how do we know how to process, to uncode, the words or symbols and reconstruct them into something meaningful? How do we extract meaning from apparent nonsense, from what might be random symbols or noise?

Part of the process involves repetition and pattern recognition. An infant hears a lot of sounds, but after a while if the parents say "chair" and point to a chair, the child gets the idea.

Further, each language has its own set of rules, so that we can fill in the patterns and anticipate the meaning. Thus, in English "ch--r" can be "chair" or "cheer," but not "chykr" - not just because no such word exists, but also because that pattern doesn't fit the rules of English.

This is where redundancy comes in. Every sentence or message has extra clues that help us understand it even if it's garbled. If the phone has static, but you can still figure out what your partner's saying about the deal he just closed - it's because of the redundancy built into the language.

According to information theory, redundancy is a safety mechanism, to make sure messages get through even if they're damaged in transit. The safety mechanism consists of "patterns and structures and sets of rules" that build redundancy into language, and make sure communication occurs.

The concept of redundancy, the need to repeat information, for a message to contain extra bits or clues to get through, has a parallel in our efforts to communicate with G-d. After all, when it comes to prayer, one of the most frequent questions involves the supposed redundancy of prayer.

Why can't we pray only when we feel like it? Why do we have to use the words in the prayer book? Why can't we make up our own prayers? Why are the prayers always the same?

Now that we've begun to understand the role of redundancy in information theory, we can also begin to understand the answer to the typical questions about prayer.

Why can't we pray only when we feel like it? The answer is, of course, you can. And most of us do. "When the spirit moves us," we pray. But if we understand that we connect to and communicate with G-d through prayer, and that communication requires redundancy, and that redundancy requires rules and structures, well, then, we need to "follow the rules," to pray at the most effective time.

Why must we use the words in the prayer book? Why can't we make up our own prayers? Again, you can make up your own prayers. But the words in the prayer book, established by our Sages, are the most effective way of communicating with G-d. They contain the necessary information for us to make the connection and get our meaning across. After all, if you think there's static on a cell phone, that's nothing compared to the static across the "spiritual divide."

Why are the prayers always the same? The answer to this question, even more than the others, involves redundancy. It's the repetition that makes meaning. Repetition reveals the rules, and distinguishes between sounds that form a meaningful message and sounds that are just random, meaningless noise.

The "redundancy" of prayer thus does two things: it shows G-d that we mean what we say, and it allows us to say what we mean.



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