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Home » Tetzaveh

Tezaveh: Prayer

Submitted by on February 2, 2014 – 4:57 amNo Comment | 1,481 views

Hey You!

Have you noticed that Moses’ name is missing from this Torah portion? Whenever G-d speaks to Moses in this portion, He calls him, you, instead of Moses. I don’t know about you, but when someone tries to draw my attention by calling, hey you! I usually respond with, the name’s Lazer. G-d knew Moses’ name, why didn’t He use it in this portion?[1]

The answer: If I stand before a packed room and call Rebecca, only Rebecca will respond, but if I shout hey you! The entire audience will respond. Whom do I summon when I say, you? Everyone. We are each different from others in the way we think, feel, look and dress, but beyond the externals, we are all the same. We share the same essence. Your name captures your external features and attributes. You, captures the real you; your essence. By calling you, G-d summoned the real Moses’; his essence.

Communal Prayer

What difference does this teaching make to us? Why should it matter that G-d summoned Moses’ essence and how can it enrich our Jewish practice?

Several weeks ago, a woman asked me why we pray communally. In her experience, communal prayer is a distraction. Listening to this person reading this passage and another person reading a different passage, while some come and others go, some chat and others read, disturbs her concentration. She feels much better equipped to focus on reflective spiritual prayer in the quiet of her peaceful home.

This isn’t unusual. In every community there are those who prefer to pray at home, where they can keep their own pace and meditate in silence. They can dialog with G-d in ways that are meaningful to them and that appeal to their personal nature. Why throw that away for the benefit of communal prayer? In fact what are the benefits of communal prayer?

I began by explaining that G-d is more present in the Synagogue than at home and in communal prayer than in private prayer. I pointed out that G-d never turns down the requests of communal prayer.[2] But these ideas failed to satisfy her. Of what benefit is the enhanced presence of Divinity if she couldn’t reach or connect with it?

The Real You

The conversation then turned to the text of the Amidah in which we repeatedly chant, “Blessed are you, G-d.” I explained that before we address G-d by name, we reach for His attention by calling Him you. In a sense we are reaching for the essence of G-d. The essence that captures everything.

How do we reach for G-d’s essence? You cannot relate to another’s essence with your mind because your mind can only relate to intelligence. Your mind reaches out to other minds. The heart can only relate to emotion and reaches others through their heart. The heart cannot summon the essence. How do we summon G-d’s essence? The answer is, with our own essence. This means, of course, that the primary objective of prayer is to bring our essence to bear. To activate our essence. How is this done?

The answer is through communal prayer.

We mentioned above that your name describes your external features. Your thoughts and feelings, mind set and personality, mental and psychological dispositions, successes and failures, worries and fears, are all external to your quintessence. To the real you.

When you focus on your own interests and needs in prayer, your likes and dislikes your passions and spiritual happiness, you are immersed in your own wellbeing. If you are inside yourself, you cannot escape yourself. That is the nature of things. It is liberating to sit at home in silent reflective mode and concentrate freely on G-d, but the drawback is that it traps you in your own milieu. When you are in a communal setting, your essence can be triggered.

As the old saying goes, you can’t pull yourself up by your own hair, but someone else can. When you pray communally and are distracted by the sound of another’s prayer, you feel thrice dissed – dis-tracted, dis-appointed and dis-tressed. And you well should feel that way. After all, you are trying to enter the tunnel of your own thoughts and feelings and the sound of others crowd you out.

Suppose you have a joyful personality and respond best to joyful prayer. You want to dance and sing and yet the person next to you is crying. One congregant is reflective and responds spiritually to strains of remorse and yet another is humble and inspired by G-d’s love. Some beg for mercy and others sing praises. This one is moved by G-d’s might and others by His wisdom. This one is chanting and this one is meditating. No wonder, you are about to go out of your mind.

Further, some are coming, some are going, some are chatting and some are studying, the array of activities is jolting and interferes with your desire, nay, need for your own space.

It is at this point that you stand at a crossroads. Do I escape or dive in? If I escape, it means that I am only stimulated by the style of prayer that responds to my spiritual, emotional and intellectual makeup. I can only pray from within myself and that is a trap.

The second option is to dive in. This means that I come to appreciate that we are all in this room for the same reason – to pray to G-d. All modes of prayer lead to G-d just as all rivers lead to the sea. The external elements of my prayer are different from the externals of others, but those are externals. There is a much deeper strain in this room that isn’t available at home. Here I can connect to G-d through my essence and the collective essence of my fellow praying Jews.

When our individual prayers blend, we lose ourselves in the collective. We stop focusing on our individual needs and the approach that best suits our particular personality. We pray from the essence. It is like accessing an inner stream of prayer that carries us aloft to a much higher place. True, it does not reflect the prayer elements that best suit you and support your spiritual wellbeing, but it touches you in a much deeper way. You transcend your intellect, emotions and even spirit, when you blend with others, surrendering your interests, needs and very self. Here you become part of the larger group. You become part of the one. The oneness that pervades us all. The oneness of G-d.

One

In your room, in private prayer, you are the only one. In the Synagogue, in communal prayer, G-d is the only one. And in G-d’s oneness you find the oneness that encompasses every strain and style of prayer. It is not a distraction. It is a crutch that lifts you higher.

In communal prayer, our essence is summoned. When we stand for the Amidah and come face to face with G-d, we are not enveloped in our own thoughts or trapped in our own cocoon. We set ourselves aside and focus entirely on G-d. G-d responds in kind and brings His essence to bear. Blessed are you G-d. Essence to essence. The true you to the true G-d. You have become one. As one as one can be.



[1] Two answers are given. A, It is a response to Moses’ request that his name be erased from the Torah is the nation is not forgiven for the Golden Calf (Baal Haturim Exodus 27: 20.). It’s also said that this was to remind us of Moses’ passing, on the seventh of Adar, which falls around the time that this passage is read (Maor Enayim ad loc.). But in this essay we dig a little deeper and explore the mystical dimension based on Toras Menachem 5743 p. 1046.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin: 39a and Brachos: 9a.

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