Sunday, October 2, 2022

Judaism on One Leg Unit 10 How Jews Talk to God


Judaism on One Leg

Unit 10 How Jews Talk to God

Link to video

 Discussion Notes

The need to pray is a deeply rooted human trait, transcending the continents, and going back to the dawn of human consciousness.

So, what do we mean by that.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Here is an academic breakdown of the types of human worship:

·        Contemplative-meditative prayer (e.g., worshiping God, reflecting on the Bible)-

·        “Ohm”

·        Ritualistic prayer (e.g., repeating statements): Praying the rosary, repeating “ Hail Mary”

·        Petitionary prayer (e.g., asking God for things): Our Misheberach

·        Colloquial prayer (e.g., thanking God for things): Hodu laShem

·        Intercessory prayer (e.g., praying for others): El na refa na

There is an element of all this in Jewish worship, to which, we add “pedagogic”, “ education-as indoctrination to key values. A very Jewish perspective.


Key concepts


1. First=who are we praying to? Does God listen? Mann ret zum vand?( it was an ancient Jewish practice).Does God respond? What response do we expect? 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)?


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


We have 2 key categories: Fixed and spontaneous

Tefilah- is “Keva”- Fixed. We need a system, an order, both as a collective, and as individual.

Before, after meals, Amidah-fixed text. Fixed time- Shacharit, Minha, Maariv.

But, Rabbis say: Do not make your prayer fixed but make it a supplication( tachanunim).( Pirke Avot) Tachanunim can not be fixed( although it is in the prayerbook- a whole section, tachanun)

Why fixed?

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.


Opposite approach: Rosenzweig’s approach was subjective also in connection with the mitzvot, Jewish observances. He did think that he would one day become a fully observant Jew, but believed in the gradual approach in which the observances slowly made their impact by “ringing a bell” for him. Typical of this approach is Rosenzweig’s answer to someone who asked him whether he wore tefillin [phylacteries]: “Not yet,” he replied.

But, Heschel, who needs a fixed time,  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.

“ natan baplilim” (brought him to court), lifnei haelohim-to the judges

Amidah is” Hatefilah” par excellence

Tachanumin- Just the opposite- from “ Chen”, find favor. A Pleading- My case can’t stand   in court.  judgement has failed- plea for mercy.

Tachanun is classic example- elohai neztor- brief example

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. Concept of kiddush Hashem—if it’s a secret, its no kiddush!


More Polarities

Fear & Anxiety-That motivates tachanunim . Also in Psalms.


But also  Joy & Awe- To some extent- Tefilah (awe), Psalms, especially those in the prayer book- Hallel

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.


   For example, the gemara (Berakhot 32a) teaches that one should first praise God, and only afterwards ask for one's needs. 


Rabbi Simlai expounded: "A man should always first recount the praise of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and then pray.  From where do we know this?  From Moshe; for it is written, 'And I besought the Lord at that time' (Devarim 3:23), and it continues, 'Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven and earth who can do according to Your works and according to Your mighty acts?' and afterwards it is written, 'Let me go over, please, and see the good land…"


            Furthermore, the gemara argues that the berakhot of Shemoneh Esrei comprise three distinct units, corresponding to the three stages of prayer.


Rabbi Chanina said: "In the first ones he resembles a servant who is addressing praise to his master; in the middle ones he resembles a servant who is requesting largess from his master; in the last ones he resembles a servant who has received a largess from his master and takes his leave." Open to Sim Shalom- Weekday

Every day

1.     Avot ("Ancestors") -

2.     Gevurot ("powers") -

3.     Kedushat ha-Shem ("the sanctification of the Name") -.

Weekdays only-Personal transformation

4.     Binah ("understanding") -.

5.     Teshuvah ("return", "repentance").

6.     Selichah .

7.     Geulah ("redemption")

Personal well being

8.     Refuah ("healing")[22]) -

9.     Birkat HaShanim ("blessing for years [of good]")  

10.  Galuyot ("diasporas") –

National social

11.  Birkat HaDin ("Justice") -.

12.  Birkat HaMinim ("the sectarians, heretics") -.( this is #19)

13.  Tzadikim ("righteous") -

14.  Boneh Yerushalayim ("Builder of Jerusalem") -

15.  Birkat David ("Blessing of David") -

16.  Tefillah ("prayer")


17.  Avodah ("service

18.  Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving")

19.  Sim Shalom ("Grant Peace") - asks God for peace, goodness, blessings, kindness and compassion. Ashkenazim generally say a shorter version of this blessing at Minchah and Maariv, called Shalom Rav.

20.  Personal petition

I will close with the example of the personal petition, to mark the end of the Amidah. It was eventually incorporated into our Rosh Chodesh announcement:


ברכות ט״ז ב:כ״ב

רַב בָּתַר צְלוֹתֵיהּ אָמַר הָכִי: ״יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ שֶׁתִּתֵּן לָנוּ חַיִּים אֲרוּכִּים, חַיִּים שֶׁל שָׁלוֹם, חַיִּים שֶׁל טוֹבָה, חַיִּים שֶׁל בְּרָכָה, חַיִּים שֶׁל פַּרְנָסָה, חַיִּים שֶׁל חִלּוּץ עֲצָמוֹת, חַיִּים שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהֶם יִרְאַת חֵטְא, חַיִּים שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶם בּוּשָׁה וּכְלִימָּה, חַיִּים שֶׁל עוֹשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד, חַיִּים שֶׁתְּהֵא בָּנוּ אַהֲבַת תּוֹרָה וְיִרְאַת שָׁמַיִם, חַיִּים שֶׁתְּמַלֵּא לָנוּ אֶת כָּל מִשְׁאֲלוֹת לִבֵּנוּ לְטוֹבָה״.



Berakhot 16b:22

After his prayer, Rav said the following:

May it be Your will, Lord our God,

that You grant us long life, a life of peace,

a life of goodness, a life of blessing,

a life of sustenance, a life of freedom of movement from place to place, where we are not tied to one place,

a life of dread of sin, a life without shame and disgrace,

a life of wealth and honor,

a life in which we have love of Torah and reverence for Heaven,

a life in which You fulfill all the desires of our heart for good.

That is my prayer for us all as we approach Yom Kippur.


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