Mazel Tov on our 100th Post!!
For whatever reason, the image that immediately comes to mind is that of a child… probably from a Christmas movie… kneeling at the foot of their bed, on their knees, hands clasped, fingers crossed, eyes closed, head bowed…
They are asking to make someone well again… for things to turn out all right… or maybe for a new puppy to complete their family.
There are probably tears… swelling music… and most likely, an emotional and happy ending is just around the corner.
And there is nothing wrong with this… Prayer is a powerful thing… an important thing… a life-affirming thing.
But that image does not seem very… well… Jewish.
As I began to more fully explore Judaism, my Judaism, I became acutely aware of how people actually prayed… at least the physical manifestation of that.
Now the image is more likely a bunch of men wrapped in Tallit and Tefillin. And actually, for the sake of this piece, I think I will need to separate the word Praying from Davening, even though they are mostly the same. Daven is Yiddish for pray.
When I was on the flight heading to Israel for the first time, I was asked to be part of a Minyan at the back of the plane. I won’t mention a certain friend of mine who pretended to be asleep to get out of it!
I had no idea what I was doing, and the Hebrew from my Bar Mitzvah had not yet started coming back. I was intimidated. Especially when my friends Shlomo and Sal started… how did Ben say it… looking like the flame of a candle flickering in the wind.
They bent, they bowed, they shimmied. And it was amazing! The Holy words of Hashem were literally moving into and through their bodies… THIS was davnening.
At the end of the trip we were each given a beautiful ArtScroll Siddur… and it took some sessions with my buddy Jonah, to really get into the logistics… the technical elements of which prayers I should be saying, what, what to do, when to bow and move forward or backwards, etc.
I mean, it’s all in there… but who reads the stage directions?
Jonah and I put colored page markers in and he told me to even write notes if I wanted to. Wait… WHAT???!!! These are things I thought were sacrilegious, until he told me that this was my “workbook.” Ahhh… THAT made sense! For it is just that… my workbook on how to get close to and connect with Hashem.
So the davening was clearer… especially when I was in Shul… and while I am still very lost… I am okay with reading most of the prayers in English, to make sure I still understand and get the most out of it.
But how do I pray??? How do I ask Hashem for things outside of the traditional three prayer times a day? Outside of Shul?
I saw Rabbi Shalom Arush speak a few weeks back, and he said we have to have Emunah. And that if we wanted something… anything…we had to pray 10 minutes a day for it.
You have to have Emunah… You have to have Emunah… You have to have Emunah…
Oooooo… Kaaaaaay… I get that… but HOW??? How do I get to Emunah and how do I ACTUALLY pray? Eyes closed or open? Sit or stand? Speak silently or out loud? These are all legitimate questions… and ones I would like to figure out… for myself.
Charlie Harary, one of the main speakers on my Israel trip said something that made a big difference for me. Before going to the Kotel he told us to literally talk and pray to the wall as if it was our Dad… That opened up a huge flood gate of emotions for me, and really connected me to the Kotel… really locked me in.
Rabbi Arush said something very similar… that we must think of Hashem as our loving Father. These ideas come from Rabbi Nachman of Breslev’s approach… to talk to Hashem, and pray to him in a tone of normal conversation… like a Father or best friend.
But sometimes my mind wanders… I lose focus. Am I supposed to be chanting the same thing over and over? Hashem grant me clarity… Hashem grant me clarity… or whatever it is I am asking for.
As many of you may know, I am also practicing daily meditation. I try to do it before or after my morning prayers… depending on what I think needs to lead into the other… and I find if I don’t meditate in the morning, my day is not as good and focused.
Sooo… How amazing is it, that right before I went into my morning prayers the other day… my Jewish prayers… I was listening to Pema Chodron talking about Tonglen meditation…
She explains how to work with the chatter… gently push thoughts and internal conversations away… and was explaining how we can use our vices… our bad thoughts… our poisons… to become our seeds of virtue and enlightenment!
Lots of similarities between Buddhism and Judaism… and as Rabbi Doniel Katz said a few weeks ago… we should be studying and embracing secular things to help clarify and strengthen our Judaism.
Aryeh Kaplan has a whole book on Jewish meditation… but I find Pema to be more practical and user-friendly… at least for the technical elements.
Shlomo and are supposed to talk later this week about prayer and praying and how to stay focused… but in the meantime I think we just need to have good intention… to embrace and understand what we are saying and why… to focus on what we are trying to achieve… and to give in to the power and potency of each word and phrase, whether from Torah, Siddur or our very own thoughts… and understand that it is, in a big way, to each his own. Prayer is a remarkably personal thing… even in the midst of it being a very public thing.
So go ahead, make your day… pray!