I love this photograph of Jewish women praying at the Kotel (Western Wall), taken in 1848Happy Mindful Monday! It has been a while since I've posted on this theme and a while since I've been online--though as of sundown Saturday night, this High Holy Day season has finally drawn to a close. Don't get me wrong--I love holidays and this season in particular is laden with meaning for me, but I am quite at peace with returning to my usual routine at this point.
A dear friend of mine has taken on the huge mitzvah of learning together once a week with me. I refer to it as our Torah Tuesdays. The reason I say this is a huge mitzvah is not just because I appreciate our time together so much (which I do!) but because of the importance placed on educating another Jew by Judaism itself. There is a well known Talmudic proverb, which states:
"Whoever teaches his son teaches not alone his son, but also his son's son, and so on to the end of generations." -- Talmud, Kiddushin 30aJudaism places so much importance on teaching and educating that the act of learning with and teaching a fellow Jew is also said to fulfill the commandment stated in Dueteronomy 11:19 to "dilligently teach your children..." even for those who do not have children of their own.
But, yet again, I digress--perhaps I shall post at another time on the role of education in Judaism. For now, I want to focus on the topic of prayer.
I borrowed a book from my friend a couple of weeks ago titled "How To Run A Traditional Jewish Household." The author, Blu Greenberg, had the following to say on the role of daily prayer:
"Prayer serves many functions, in fact, every function and its opposite:
It is a safety hatch when one is overcome by fear or dread, anger or need.
It calls forth a generosity of the human spirit. Prayer reminds us not to take totally for granted that which we all must presume as we go about our business--the gifts of life, health, love, and good fortune. If we constantly worried about these essentials, we would be paralyzed in our actions. If we took them for granted all the time, we would be ingrates, and most unprepared for the vagaries or life.
Prayer sometimes enables us to reach into our own souls, to see what it's like in there. The truth is that we can get by very well for long periods of time without this contact with our inner selves, but at some point it catches up.
Prayer is a sensation of community; but it is also a feeling of intense loneliness, and aloneness with G-d." (Chapter 4, page 137)
For me, prayer has taken on many roles. It has sometimes been like having a conversation with G-d. Sometimes it has been forced, rote, mechanical. Sometimes it has been full of feeling and meaning. I pray at times out of habit, at times out of what some might call superstition, at times out of desperation and hope, at times out of joy and gratitude. Many times, all of these factors play in to one Shabbat or one Krias Shema (prayers before retiring at night).
It would look pretty on paper to say my relationship to/belief in my G-d comes as easily to me as the breath to my lungs or the beating of my heart. It has not and does not. In the past, starting that "conversation" of prayer has been challenged by my not knowing to Whom I was speaking. The name game would get in the way--after all, one cannot address a "G-d" she does not believe exists. In those times, which were driven as much by comfort as they were by anger or pain, my prayers would take me by surprise. I'd find myself calling out G-d when I least expected to. That, in hindsight, is as natural and involuntary as the human heart beat or act of breathing.
Judaism recognizes that prayer will not always come with feeling. It recognizes that oftentimes our thoughts or emotions will serve as a barrier rather than motivator when it comes to talking with G-d. That is one reason why we have so many prayers we say daily, weekly, at holidays, on special milestones, painful occasions, even when eating, seeing something in nature, wearing a new item of clothing, using the bathroom, taking a road-trip, etc. It is well known that there are and will be times when we cannot find the words to begin the conversation; Judaism gives that to us.
However, equally important are those words which do come straight from a place deep within. Whether it is from despair and desire, from a place of loneliness or fear--we are all granted a private audience--"aloneness with G-d"--to pour out our soul-song when the occasion arises.
In the early stages of diagnostic testing over a year ago, well before it was discovered that I have severe sleep apnea, I had to go through 3 rounds of MRIs. This took 3 days and over six hours. I was terrified of the machine, the small space, the inability to move, the dark and the loud noises--not to mention all the anxiety of what they might be looking for in there! The one thing that got me through was to continuously recite in my mind the words to a Jewish song, Adon Olam. This is a piece taken from daily Jewish liturgy. Over the generations, it has been put to about a gazillion different tunes--a great way to take up 6 hours of time! But more than entertainment, it provided comfort and peace--each and every time I reached the last words: "Hashem* li, v'lo ira" -- "G-d is with me, I shall not fear."
So whatever the Name you choose to call, whether it's in your own words, driven by feeling, accompanied by meaning or completely by rote, may you all find comfort, peace, and gratitude in having even a brief moment of conversation in prayer.
*To honor the commandment of not taking His name in vain, many Jews will use "Hashem," meaning literally, The Name, when quoting liturgy outside of actual prayer