Usually this section would have an article. This time around, I’ve decided to do something different. Below, you will find a series of texts with guiding questions for personal exploration or for conversation with family or friends.
Take a look at these teachings from our tradition, find your personal meaning in them, and then let me know what you learned or discovered. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Eliezer says: One who makes his prayer “set” (as though it is burdensome to him), his prayer does not constitute “pleading” (for Divine mercy).
Rabbi Yehoshua says: One who is travelling in a dangerous place should offer a brief prayer (and) say: “Save, God, Your people, the remnant of Israel; at every period of transition let their needs be before You. You are the Source of all blessing, God, Who heeds prayer.”
(Mishnah Berakhot 4:4).
Rabban Gamliel says: Every day a person must pray 18 (blessings of Shemoneh Esrei). Rabbi Yehoshua says:
(One may say) an abbreviated (form of the) 18 (blessings).
Rabbi Akiva says: If his prayer is fluent in his mouth, he must say 18; and if it is not – an abbreviated 18.
(Mishnah Berakhot 4:3)
Rabbi Shimon says: Be careful in the reciting of Shema (and praying). When you pray, do not make your prayer fixed, rather prayers for mercy and supplication before the Omnipresent, blessed be God. (Ethics of the Fathers 2:13).
These teachings represent the struggle between Keva (fixed language) and Kavannah (personal intent).
• Are your most powerful moments of prayer when reciting the traditional liturgy, or when speaking the words in your heart?
• Is there a way for prayer to be both fixed and inspired by the moment?
• How can our prayers be truly meaningful if they aren’t from the heart and how can we pray with a community if we aren’t all praying the same words?
Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.
– Abraham Joshua Heschel
In 1965, Rabbi Heschel joined a Selma to Montgomery March as part of the American civil rights movement. Upon his return, someone asked him whether he had found much time to pray while he was in Alabama, to which Rabbi Heschel responded: “I prayed with my feet.”
Some questions to consider:
• According to Rabbi Heschel, what is the purpose of prayer?
• Have you ever been a part of a subversive prayer experience?
• How do these texts change how we might relate to the commonly used phrase: “Our thoughts and prayers are with…”
• Where, when, and how do you plan to pray next?