Prayer-Nothing a Jew does or thinks is simple.
I have started a discussion on Prayer at our Shabbat Jewish Learning Community.
These are the notes for the first session:
( Page references from Hertz Pentateuch)
A. Jewish Prayer is a contradiction
1. First=who are we praying to? To the wall? Is it to an abstract? To a personhood? Depends on our idea of God. Is it to a negative attribute? Ein Sof ( Infinite, distant)? Or “ Rachman”( Merciful and personal)?
2nd -Why pray? A. Music? East European Chazanut- at its peak- was better than the Opera. Yosele Rosenblatt, Moshe Kousevitsky, Opera singers Richard Tucker Jan Peerce
b. Nice company?Letter to editor Bintel brief of Der Forwerts. Century ago. Why do you go to shule? Avraham-I go to talk to God. Yitzhak- I go to talk to Avraham! Synagogue- Greek- for Bet Knesset-House of Gathering.
c- Food?- Kiddush, Oneg Shabbat. Ancient Temple- the people shared their meal with God and with each other. Earliest synagogues were also the local motel for travelers!
d-Intellectual stimulation? Torah reading, drashah. Bet Midrash- House of Study. Shule- from “school”.
e- and for worship-Bet tefilah-House of prayer.
3-What do we pray for? Pray for the stock market, the horse race? How do we know what we are supposed to pray for?
4-Are we commanded to pray? Voo shteyt es geschrieben? Find me the line in the entire Bible where it says you are commanded to pray! ( Implied but not explicit).
5. Why pray at a fixed time? Shacharit, Micha , Maariv.Heschel writes of his coming to Berlin as a young student, an ordained Chasidic Rabbi, who has gone to the realm of the goyim, Berlin, the Berlin of Cabaret and intellect. overwhelmed by the glory of such an intellectual society. Then the sun is setting, and he is broken out of his revelry by the realization that it is time to stop and daven mincha. Was he in the mood? No! Then why daven, why not wait till the mood strikes him. And he realizes that the mood may never strike him if he waits for it, but if he begins to daven, he might come to the mood, to the spirit.
But, Heschel is a Chasid at heart and Chasidic masters never davened on time- Does the Holy One wear a watch?
4. What is the nature of our prayer. All is opposites
Tefilah and Tachanunim. Two opposites.
Tefilah- from root ” pll”- judgement-one is in judgement. One is claiming what is justly his-her? One is putting oneself in judgement before the Holy One. One is critical of one self.
Tachanumin- Just the opposite- from “ Chen”, find favor. A Pleading- My case can’t stand in court. judgement has failed- plea for mercy.
Fixed and spontaneous
Tefilah- is “Keva”- Fixed. Before, after meals, Amidah-fixed text. Fixed time- Shacharit, Minha, Maariv. Tachanunim can not be fixed( although it is in the prayerbook)
But, Rabbis say: Do not make your prayer fixed but make it a supplication( tachanunim).( Pirke Avot)
Public and Private- Tzibur and Yachid
Prayer may be said in private. It’s a personal affair. The ancient rabbis would stand in a quiet spot, in front of a wall ( long before The Wall, the Kotel).
Prayer is best said in public- in a Minyan-10.Kaddish, Barchu, Torah reading.
Fear & Anxiety-That motivates tachanunim
But also Joy & Awe- To some extent- Tefilah (awe),
Two other complimentary dimensions:
Hoda’ah( acknowledgement) Brachah-Hamotzi & Shechechyanu
and Hodayah( Thanksgiving)- Hallel,
So, let’s look at these issues from the texts- how we started, how we evolved, how we answered these issues in all ages.