Developing An Attitude Of Gratitude
Prayers Of Petition
Tephila: Self Judging
Since this class is about learning to pray, let us begin with a prayer.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eheinu Melach ha'olam, asher kideshanua bemitzvotav vetzivanua la'asok devrei Torah.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to engage in words of Torah (instruction).
Notice how the chapter is entitled "learning'' how to pray. This is not an overnight process and prayer is something that you will never fully master. Prayer is how we speak to God and to the spark of God within us. God is listening and there really is no wrong way to talk to God, as long as it is done sincerely.
If a married Jewish man is walking alone in a park, and expresses an opinion, without anybody around to hear him, is he still wrong?
We can divide prayer into three types; blessings of thanksgiving, entreaties, and self-judgment. Blessings of thanksgiving are called beracoth, which comes from the root word meaning to bend the knee. Entreaties are called bakashah, which comes from the root for the Hebrew word, please. Self-judgment prayers are called tephila, which comes, appropriately enough, from the root words to self-judge.
Jews, like Daniel, even into the time of the Babylonia exile, prayed on their knees and continued to do so when the exile was over and some returned to
You won't find many Jews praying on their knees today. We stopped kneeling when our Christian breakaway brothers continued to do so. We do bend the knee and bow when standing during certain parts of the Synagogue service, but at many
Such a dearth of reverence does not lend itself to spirituality and a relationship with God. So whether you bend a knee and bow your head, or pray on your knees, pick a posture that you would only give to a supreme ruler, unto whom you trust your life.
Rabbi Bloom and Father O'Reilly were arguing one day about religion. They went on for some time and very soon, things began to get out of hand.
Then Rabbi Bloom said, "We must not quarrel in this way. It's not right. We are both doing God's work. You in your way and I in His."
King David said that we should be so spiritual we should be blessing God at least 100 times a day (Talmud Tractate Bavli Menachot 43A). Remember from an earlier class that the kings did not have the oral tradition of Talmud passed to them (Mishna Pirkei Avot 1:1), so David was talking a pretty spiritual game here. He meant that we should bless God throughout the day for not only our meals, but for the singing birds, our first breath in the morning, our health, our friends, all of the beauty in the world, and the list goes on. He was talking about an attitude of gratitude as the name Jew, from "Yahudah," meaning grateful, suggests.
The Talmud takes David's idea and makes a list of the ritually ordained prayers for traditional Jews, of which there are about 20 just for saying after three meals, so there's 60 blessings right off the bat. Another 40 come from three daily prayer services and others prayed throughout the day, like when we wash hands, awake in the morning and so forth.
In Jewish Spiritual Renewal, while it is a grand idea to learn the prayers developed by our sages and set forth in the first book of Talmud (Beracoth), the sages teach that one should not learn them by rote, and that we should use the prayer book as a starting point from which to pray to God in your own words with true intention. True spiritual intention is called Kavenah (Talmud Bavli Tractate Beracoth 5a).
It is not kavenah to mumble through a motzi, the prayer thanking God for bread, without true reflection on what you are saying. It is kavenah, and it is Jewish, to thank God in your own words, from your heart and soul, for the meal you're about to eat, and for the friends and family gathered around you. The Talmud, in Beracoth, further teaches that it is better to pray in a language you understand than in one you don't. This is not an excuse to drop your Hebrew study, but the sages are trying to express that prayer is a personal communication between you and God. Kavenah is not found in the words, but in the honesty behind the words.
Did you know that Moses had to make a third trip up to the top of
Well, on this third trip, Moses arrived at the burning bush after much climbing, removed his sandals, kneeled and prayed to God.
"Oh mighty God, King of the Universe, your people have sent me back here to ask you a question about the Ten Commandments."
"What question do they have for me?" roared the voice of God.
"They want to know whether the commandments are listed according to priority."
Praying with true intention will make you feel grateful for all of God's gifts. Your cup will no longer look half full or half empty, you will see it as overflowing. When you thank God throughout the day for everything, even the littlest things, that you have, it will become clear to you how rich you really are. Those times when you don't get what you want will seem insignificant by comparison and you will be less likely to be upset.
Here are some beracoth of thanksgiving that you can start today to add to your prayer routine:
Modeh ani lifanekha melekh hai v'kayam shehehezarta bi nishmahti b'hemla, raba emunatekha.
I give thanks before You, Living and Eternal King, that You have returned within me my soul with compassion; how abundant is Your faithfulness!
One of the speakers was Professor Linda McMaron of
Her speech was rewarded with loud applause and enthusiastic feedbacks.
Another Professor, a Jewish religious man, asked permission to speak.
He said: 'By us, the Jews, there is an old tradition, thousands of years old, to say a prayer of thanks to the Creator of the World for meriting us to wake up healthy and whole. The prayer is said immediately upon waking up, while one is still on the bed and sitting down. There are 12 words in this prayer and if one regulates himself to say it slowly with concentration, kavenah, it takes exactly 12 seconds to says it... 12 words in 12 seconds.
He said the prayer slowly in Hebrew:
Mode Ani Lefanecha Melech Chai VeKayam, Shehechezarta Bi Nishmati Bechemla Raba Emunatecha
'I thank Thee, O living and eternal King, because Thou hast graciously restored my soul to me; great is Thy faithfulness.'
The auditorium burst into a standing applause that roared throughout the auditorium. This time, it was for the Creator of the World.
Upon hand washing:
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al n'tilat yadayim.
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning washing of hands.
Before eating a meal that has bread:
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, ha-motzi lehem min ha-aretz.
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Before eating a meal that has no bread:
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, bo're minei m'zonot.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who creates varieties of nourishment.
Before drinking wine or grape juice:
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, bo're p'ri ha-gafen.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Before eating fruit:
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, bo're p'ri ha-etz.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.
A group of Rabbis were having lunch in "Isaac's White House" kosher restaurant. Unfortunately, Isaac served them watermelon spiked with whisky that he had prepared for another table and he realized his mistake too late to do anything about it. All Isaac could do was wait in his kitchen and expect the worst.
As soon as the waiter came back into the kitchen with the empty plates, Isaac grabbed hold of him and asked, "What did they say, please tell me, what did they say?"
"Nothing at all, Mr. Isaac," replied the waiter. "They were all too busy searching for the watermelon seeds and putting them into their pockets."
Before eating other produce, like a yam:
Barukh ata Adonai eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, bo're p'ri ha-adama.
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the ground.
Before eating other foods not mentioned, like a candy bar:
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, she-hakol hih'ye bidvaro.
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, through whose word everything comes into being.
After eating, known as the Birkat Ha Mazon, which can be long, but an abbreviated version is here:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, hazan et ha-olam kulo b'tuvo b'chein
b'chesed uv-rachamim, hu notein lechem l'chol-basar, ki l'olam chasdo, uv-tuvo hagadol tamid lo chasar lanu v'al yechsar lanu mazon l'olam va-ed.
Ba-avur sh'mo hagadol, ki hu Eil zan um-farneis lakol, u-meitiv lakol u-meichin mazon l'chol-b'riyotav asher bara. Baruch atah Adonai, hazan et hakol.
Blessed is The Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe, who sustains the entire world with goodness, kindness and mercy. God gives food to all creatures, for God's mercy is everlasting.
Through God's abundant goodness we have not lacked sustenance, and may we not lack sustenance forever, for the sake of God's great name. God sustains all, does good to all, and provides food for all the creatures whom God has created. Blessed is The Lord our God, who provides food for all.
After surviving an illness:
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, ha-gomel lahayavim tovot sheg'malani kol tov.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who bestows good things on the unworthy, and has bestowed on me every goodness.
Notice all of these prayers are meant to be said in the home (or perhaps a restaurant). None are synagogue service prayers. These are blessings of gratitude to be incorporated into your daily life so that you begin to build a relationship and a personal experience with God.
Get used to thanking God for everything. Believe it or not, we even have a prayer to say after we move our bowels. Talmud Bavli Tractate Beracoth 60b reads: "Rabbi Abayei said, 'when one comes out of a privy he should say, Blessed is He who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them blocked, it would be impossible for a man to survive and stand before You. Blessed are You that heals all flesh and does wonders.'" This prayer may produce a chuckle or two, especially from children, but think about someone who has a serious gastrointestinal or prostate problem. Something that used to come so naturally can become a very painful experience. That person would say this prayer of gratitude with true kavenah.
70-year-old Maurice had an appointment to see his doctor. As usual, the doctor began with a series of questions.
"Mr. Levy, what about urination? Do you have any problems?"
Maurice replies, "No doctor, it's very regular, every morning at precisely 7 am."
"And what about your bowel movements?"
Maurice replies, "They're fine also doctor, every morning at precisely 8 am."
The doctor asks, "So then why did you come to see me, Mr. Levy?"
Maurice replies, "Oy, doctor, I don't wake up before 10 am."
As I mentioned earlier, you do not have to recite your prayers word-for-word as written. For example there is a prayer for saying when you see a rainbow, but you might find it more spiritually uplifting to say, "Far out God, that is just beautiful! Thank you!!!" Remember, it's kavenah that counts, not words. If you ran inside to Google the appropriate rainbow sighting prayer, the rainbow might be gone by the time you find the prayer.
By the way, the reason we have a rainbow prayer is that the rainbow is sign of a God's promise to Noah that he would never flood the Earth again. Here it is for your information:
Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam, zokher haberit vene'eman bivrito v'kaiyam bema'amaro.
Praised are you Adonai, our God, Sovereign of the world, Who remembers the covenant, who keeps the promise, and fulfills God's word.
Basically, just get used to talking to God as your loving giving Parent.
Now, let's look at entreaties. These prayers are petitions through which we make requests of God. The Hebrew word for entreaty is bakashah. Note that this has the same root as the Hebrew word for please, be'vakashah. We see these in our prayer books (sidurim) asking God for ''rain in its season'', or good health, (mi sheberach) and always for peace. Keep in mind that you should never pray for your own selfish reasons. Even when praying to God for healing, you are asking Him to do so that you can make your life a blessing and continue doing His will. On the other hand, it is vain to ask God for a new Mercedes Benz just because ''our friends all have Porches.'' You can always pray that God help others though. That is quite unselfish.
Jeremiah in Chapter 17, Verse 13 gives us advice for bakashah. "The Hope of Israel [Mickve Israel] is God." He teaches us not to depend of our fellow frail man's ways but to trust in God's teachings. In the next verse (17:14) we read what has become our mi sheberach prayer in our Amidah: "Heal me, God, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved."
Rabbi Alexandri's prayer in Talmud Bavli Tractate Beracoth 17a is: "May it be your will, Lord our God, to place us in an illuminated corner and not to place us in a darkened corner. Let not our heart be sick nor our eyes darkened." His prayer was all about God helping him become the best spiritual Jew and person that he could be, for the sake of God and be spiritually awakened.
Becky and Myron decided to take their little son from the heat of the city to his first visit to the beach. Dressed in his little sailor suit and hat with pail and shovel in hand, the boy happily played at the water's edge as his mother and father spread their picnic blanket. Then suddenly, to his parents' horror, a huge wave crashed down on the boy and then dragged him far out to sea. As neither of his parents could swim, his mother began to wail and cry, "Dear God, be merciful. Return our son to us!"
Suddenly another huge wave cast the boy back up on the sand at his parents' feet. His mother inspected her son and then quickly looked back towards the heavens and said, "He had a hat!"
Our last set of prayers, Tephila, are self-judging prayers. As King David said in Psalm 16:07 "I bless God who is my counselor, but in the night, my inmost self instructs me." To start off, ironically this is the prayer that the entire Talmud begins to study, judge yourself with the Shema:
Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
In an undertone:
Barukh sheim k'vod malkhuto l'olam va'ed.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever.
V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
V'hayu had'varim ha'eileh asher anokhi m'tzav'kha hayom al l'vavekha.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
V'shinan'tam l'vanekha v'dibar'ta bam
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them.
b'shiv't'kha b'veitekha uv'lekh't'kha vaderekh uv'shakh'b'kha uv'kumekha
When you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Uk'shar'tam l'ot al yadekha v'hayu l'totafot bein einekha.
And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
Ukh'tav'tam al m'zuzot beitekha uvish'arekha.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
V'hayah im shamo'a tish'm'u el mitz'votai
And it shall come to pass if you surely listen to the commandments
Asher anokhi m'tzaveh et'khem hayom
That I command you today
L'ahavah et Adonai Eloheikhem ul'av'do b'khol l'vav'khem uv'khol naf'sh'khem
To love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul,
V'natati m'tar ar'tz'khem b'ito yoreh umal'kosh
V'asaf'ta d'ganekha v'tirosh'kha v'yitz'harekha.
That I will give rain to your land, the early and the late rains,
That you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.
V'natati eisev b'sad'kha liv'hem'tekha v'akhal'ta v'sava'ta.
And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle and you will eat and you will be satisfied.
Hisham'ru lakhem pen yif'teh l'vav'khem
V'sar'tem va'avad'tem Elohim acheirim v'hish'tachavitem lahem
Beware, lest your heart be deceived
And you turn and serve other gods and worship them.
V'charah af Adonai bakhem v'atzar et hashamayim v'lo yih'yeh matar
V'ha'adamah lo titein et y'vulah
And anger of the Lord will blaze against you, and he will close the heavens and there will not be rain,
And the earth will not give you its fullness,
Va'avad'tem m'heirah mei'al ha'aretz hatovah asher Adonai notein lakhem.
And you will perish quickly from the good land that the Lord gives you.
V'sam'tem et d'varai eileh al l'vav'khem v'al naf'sh'khem
Uk'shar'tem otam l'ot al yed'khem v'hayu l'totafot bein eineikhem.
So you shall put these, my words, on your heart and on your soul;
And you shall bind them for signs on your hands, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
V'limad'tem otam et b'neikhem l'dabeir bam
And you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them
B'shiv't'kha b'veitekha uv'lekh't'kha vaderekh uv'shakh'b'kha uv'kumekha
When you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Ukh'tav'tam al m'zuzot beitekha uvish'arekha.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
L'ma'an yirbu y'maychem vi-y'may v'naychem al ha-adamah
Asher nishba Adonai la-avotaychem latayt lahem ki-y'may ha-shamayim al ha-aretz.
In order to prolong your days and the days of your children on the land
That the Lord promised your fathers that he would give them, as long as the days that the heavens are over the earth.
Vayo'mer Adonai el mosheh lei'mor
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying...
Dabeir el b'nei Yis'ra'eil v'amar'ta aleihem
Speak to the children of Israel and say to them
V'asu lahem tzitzit al kan'fei vig'deihem l'dorotam
v'nat'nu al tzitzit hakanaf p'til t'kheilet
They should make themselves tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of their clothing throughout their generations,
And give the tzitzit of each corner a thread of blue.
V'hayah lakhem l'tzitzit ur'item oto uz'khar'tem et kol mitz'vot Adonai
Va'asitem otam v'lo taturu acharei l'vav'khem v'acharei eineikhem
Asher atem zonim achareihem
And they shall be tzitzit for you, and when you look at them you will remember all of the Lord's commandments
And do them and not follow after your heart and after your eyes, which lead you astray.
L'ma'an tiz'k'ru va'asitem et kol mitz'votai viyitem k'doshim lei'loheikhem
In order to remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.
Ani Adonai Eloheikhem
Asher hotzei'ti et'khem mei'eretz Mitz'rayim lih'yot lakhhem leilohim
Ani Adonai Eloheikhem
I am the Lord, your God who led you from the land of Egypt to be a God to you.
I am the Lord, your God.
Ask yourself, are you really doing the mitzvoth, the duties of the heart of loving God with all your heart, with all of your soul and with all your might? Do you sincerely try to do what is right and just while at home, at work, and on the street? Are you letting your eyes go astray and worshipping other gods, like the god of money, or the god of lust, or the god of ego? Do you try to keep God in your conscience throughout the day? Do your actions make you a good teacher to others?
This is the way to say the prayer with Kavenah. Saying it aloud with fellow congregants as if it were a mantra or some pledge of Jewish allegiance is not. Maimonides (in the Guide for the Perplexed, Part 3, Chapter 51) expresses this point directly: "Do not pray moving your lips with your face to the wall (as if you are engaged deeply in prayer) and all the while you are thinking of your business transactions . . . Do not think you have achieved anything (by doing these things)." My best prayers are not communal, but at home, in quiet, where God can hear me and I can hear Him.
You can say your tephila prayers silently if you wish. Psalm 65:2 says, "To You silence is praise." Each morning, you should consider the day ahead. If you know, for example, that you have a company office party to attend, and the sin of gossip (loshon ha ra) is on your chesbon ha nefesh gadol, ask yourself how well you have been avoiding this defect and ask God to help you on this day.
Speaking of gossip, the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi I. Kagen of the 20th century, teaches that loshon ha ra murders not only the subject of the gossip, but the one who gossips and those who listen as well. We have a prayer specifically for this sin, Talmud Tractate Beracoth 16b-17a: ''My God guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile." This is also found is Psalm 34:14.
If ego and showing off are character defects of yours, ask God ''to let your name be like dust to everyone.'' The less you concern yourself with prestige, the less you will let selfishness interfere with your service to God, to your fellows, and to daily spiritual growth and self-improvement. You will also be able to ignore barbs, snubs and insults from others, as they will mean nothing to you.
Remember, prayer is a life long process. You will find that the practice evolves over time. As you learn the prayers, you will find some that you like and stay with them. Others, you may not like as much and choose to not say them. This is fine, so long as you are saying your prayers with kavenah. You can pick prayers that you like from our prayer books, or from the TaNaK, especially psalms, or even other spiritual texts.
Rabbi Levy handed in his notice, left his synagogue and opened up a Jewish bookshop. He worked very hard for several years and then decided to buy a new car. He put on a dark suit and white shirt, which looked impressive with his long beard, and went to see John, the local car dealer.
As soon as John saw him, he said, "Have I got a car for you, Rabbi!"
Levy looked at John and said, "What do you mean?"
"I mean a Rolls Aviv," said John, "a British built car with Israeli designed computerized digital commands for the religious driver. Come over here and let me show you. You won't believe your eyes. It's unique."
John opened the door of the Rolls Aviv and Levy got in.
"Notice that it has no accelerator or brake pedal," said John.
"So how do you stop and start it?" said Levy.
"Ah, that's the wonder of the Israeli computerized technology. It has a digital VMA-box that converts words into instructions the car understands. All you have to do is to speak the right words and the car will know what to do."
"I don't believe it," said Levy.
"It's true. To begin driving the car, just say, "baruch ha'shem (thank God)."
And as John spoke those words, the car began to move.
Levy was frightened. "How do you stop it?"
"That's easy. Just say, 'Shema yisroel', and the car will stop," said John and as he spoke these words, the car braked to a halt.
"So there it is. Say 'baruch ha'shem' to start and 'shema yisroel' to stop."
Levy was so impressed; he bought the car right away. He got in, said the words, 'baruch ha'shem' and soon the Rolls Aviv was heading out towards Route 95. Unfortunately, Levy failed to see a sign that said,
"Warning – unfinished bridge ahead. Take next left," so the car continued to move at speed towards the bridge.
"Oy Vay! I'm going to crash. How do I stop it?"
Panicking, he couldn't remember what John told him. His mind was a blank and the car was quickly approaching the end of the unfinished bridge.
"This is the end of me," Levy thought and preparing for death, he started reciting the schema. Suddenly, the Rolls Aviv screeched to a halt with half of the car tilting over the bridge. Levy removed his trembling hand from his forehead, saw how close he had come to disaster and exclaimed with conviction, "Baruch ha'shem!"
One prayer, which to me is a combination of bakashah and tephila, as well as everything we should strive for as spiritual Jews, is:
Lord, make me a channel of thy shalom;
That where there is hatred, I may bring love;
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
That where there is error, I may bring truth;
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
That where there is despair, I may bring hope;
That where there are shadows, I may bring light;
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by negating my ego that one becomes spiritually awakened.
This prayer is attributed to Francis of Assisi born in 1182. A Catholic, not a Jew, by the way. Judaism is pluralistic and the sages teach that we can draw upon all wisdom, not only the wisdom of Jews.
As you develop your process of prayer, remember to set aside prayer time every day. I suggest that at a minimum you pray in the morning and in the evening before bedtime. I also do prayers around noon or 1 P.M.
Rabbi Rich states this wondrously: "Many people today do not see the need for regular, formal prayer. "I pray when I feel inspired to, when it is meaningful to me," they say. This attitude overlooks two important things: the purpose of prayer, and the need for practice. One purpose of prayer is to increase your awareness of God and the role that He plays in your life. If you only pray when you feel inspired (that is, when you are already aware of God), then you will not increase your awareness of God.
Additionally, if you want to do anything well, you have to practice continually, even when you don't feel like doing it. This is as true of prayer as it is of playing a sport, playing a musical instrument, or writing. The sense of humility and awe of God that is essential to proper prayer does not come easily to modern man, and will not simply come to you when you feel the need to pray. If you wait until inspiration strikes, you will not have the skills you need to pray effectively. Before I started praying regularly, I found that when I wanted to pray, I didn't know how. I didn't know what to say, or how to say it, or how to establish the proper frame of mind. If you pray regularly, you will learn how to express yourself in prayer.''
The Kotzker Rebbe who lived from 1789 to 1859 was asked, "Where is God?" He responded: "Wherever you let God in." Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, wrote that this is the ''Ultimate Purpose: to let God in. But we can let God in only where we really stand, where we live, where we have a true life. If we maintain holy conversation with the little world entrusted to us, if we help the holy spiritual substance to accomplish itself in that section of Creation in which we are living, then we are establishing, in this our place, a dwelling for the Divine Presence.''
Benjy and Sam were mischievous brothers aged 8 and 10. They always seemed to be around when things went wrong. As their parents were unable to control them, they went to the Rabbi for help.
The Rabbi said he wanted to talk to the boys and that he would see the younger one first…alone. So they sent Benjy to see the Rabbi.
The Rabbi sat Benjy down and for the next five minutes they just sat and stared at each other across the Rabbi's large mahogany desk. Finally, the Rabbi pointed his finger at Benjy and said, "Benjy, where is God?"
Benjy glanced around, but said nothing.
The Rabbi pointed at Benjy again and said, louder, "Where is God, Benjy?"
Again, Benjy glanced around but said nothing.
The Rabbi then leaned across the desk, put his finger on Benjy's nose and said, "Benjy, I ask you, where is God?"
At this point, Benjy got scared, got up and ran home. He dragged Sam upstairs to his room and said, "We're in deep trouble, Sam."
Sam asked, "What do you mean we're in deep trouble, Benjy?"
Benjy replied, "I'm telling you, Sam, we're in big trouble. God is missing and they are saying we did it!"
You have cleaned up your past with teshuvah and the work leading up to it. Now you are developing a relationship with God and the Jewish Spiritual Renewal that you seek and will sustain you through life. Prayer is the first step. In the next class you will learn about another Jewish way, meditation.
A d'var Torah for this Shabbat follows.
Rabbi Arthur Segal
Hebrew College, Newton Centre, MA, USA
via Shamash Org on -line class service
Hilton Head Island, SC
JEWISH SPIRITUAL RENEWAL
RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL
Moses tells the Israelites that they will receive rewards for following
God's laws. Moses tells them that all the good that comes to them-- food,
land, even their clothing-- is from God. They should never be haughty and
think that it came from their own work. God also tells the Israelites of
the curses to become them if they do not obey Him. This forms the second
part of the Shema. This is found in traditional prayer books. Why is it
deleted from some liberal siddurem? To learn more, we invite you to read
"Beware for yourselves lest your heart be seduced and you turn
astray...Then the wrath of God will blaze against you. He will restrain
the heaven so there will be no rain, and the ground will not yield its
produce, and you will be swiftly banished from the goodly land that God
gives you"(Deut. 11:16- 17). Ouch!
The Reform movement deleted this portion of the Shema from their prayer
books. Reform do not believe, post-Shoah, in a God who dishes out reward and
punishment. Yes, God is the God of all. He is One. But life is not a bowl
of matzoh ball soup and if it were, some would be fluffy and float and
others would sink to the bottom. Shas happens.
Why my euphemism? Not so long ago, Shas rabbi Ovadiah Yosef said that the
six million who died in the hands of the Nazis, may their names be
blotted out, were "all the reincarnation of earlier souls, who sinned and
caused others to sin and did all sorts of forbidden acts...They came back
to do atonement for their sins." And God, as promised in the verses
quoted above, got them all rounded up by Nazis and sent them to their
deaths in the slaughter houses of Germany and Eastern Europe. The next
day guards were stationed around this Shas rabbi's home as a man was
caught climbing into his home through a window.
Rabbi Yosef is extremely
influential among the Sephardic community and his Shas party has 17
members in the Israeli Knesset. Gee, did God send this intruder through
his window? Mc Cain supporter Reverend Hagee says Hilter was doing God's
will in killing Jews in the Holocaust.
Why does mankind suffer? Is it divine payback for our sins as the Torah
teaches? The Kabbala gives a much different answer. Mankind suffers
because God suffers. It is not mankind that suffers but God. The
suffering we feel is not our suffering but God's suffering experience
through us as if it were our own. Therefore, the Kabbala teaches, before
we can liberate ourselves from suffering, we most first liberate God from
The Zohar teaches that we know God suffers because mankind suffers.
Genesis 1:27 says that "God created man in the image of Himself, in the
image of God He created him." Therefore, as the Ba'al Shem Tov , the
then-leftist reform founder of the now-rightist orthodox Chassidic
movement said, "Man is a part of God, and the want that is in the part is
in the whole, and the whole suffers the same want as the part." We can
infer that God suffers because we know that mankind suffers.
"From what does God suffer?" the rabbis ask. God suffers from His exile
from Himself. He suffers the separation in His Name--the "YH" divided
from the "VH"-- that took place when He created the world. He suffers to
return to the Unity--the wholeness in Himself-- that was shattered when
He created the world. Therefore God suffers and man is commissioned to
redeem Him from His suffering by returning Him to His former state of
unity. This is what the Kabbalists say we mean when we say in the Aleinu
adoration prayer "On that day the Lord shall be One and His name
The rabbis then ask "How can we liberate God from His suffering? How can
we return Him to Himself?" The answer is that we must be watchful and
alert all the time for God. As King David wrote "at dawn I hold myself in
readiness for You" (Psalm 5:3). We need to listen for God's voice "I am
listening. What is God saying?"(Psalm 85:8). Then we must speak the words
that we hear God tell us and follow them. To quote the Ba'al Shem Tov
again "When I fix my thoughts on the creator, I let my mouth speak what
it will, for the words are bound by higher roots. The Holy sparks that
fell from Himself when God built and destroyed worlds, man shall raise
and purify back to their source: All things of this world desire with all
their might to draw near man in order that the sparks of Holiness that
are in them should be raised by Him back to their source. And who with
good strength of his spirit is able to raise the Holy spark from stone to
plant, from plant to animal, from animal to speaking being? Man leads it
to freedom, and no setting free of captives is greater than this. It is
as when a king's son is rescued from captivity and brought to his
father. Then you will release God from His suffering and He , in turn,
will 'fill your mouths with laughter and your lips with song'(Psalm
126:2)." This is the Kabbalistic concept of Tikun Olam, repair of the
world, which is a credo of the modern Jewish movements, and therefore
cannot philosophically exist side-by-side with the second part of the
Shema that we find in this week's parasha.
"Nowhere is this enantiodromia--this conflagration between good and
evil-- more clearly seen than in the constant interplay of the two
opposing Sephirot (ten manifestations of God), Chesed (good) and Gevurah
(evil)--which individually constitute the Right and the Left sides--light
and darkness, the yin and yang--of the Tree of the Ten Sephirot," writes
Rabbi Yakov Ha Kohain. It is out of this balancing act that this Tree is
The idea of a suffering God is not only part of Christian theology. It is
part and parcel of Judaism as well. Jewish philosophy believes that God,
the father, (not His "son") suffers not on a cross on earth, but in
Heaven. He suffers not because we sin, but because of His separation from
Himself. His former Unity has been shattered. His Holy Queen, the
Sheckinah, has fallen and She yearns to be lifted up and returned to Her
King. This is why in Pirkei Avot one reads so many references to the
ways one can bring back the Sheckinah, i.e. studying Torah with another,
discussing Torah while three or more eat together, etc.
For Tikun Olam to be done, for God to "know" and repair Himself, He first
must be known by man. But for man to know himself, he first must know God
as well. The Torah shows us how God perfects man in increments. God
perfects man in order that man may perfect Him, in Zohar terms. This is
what Karl Jung meant when he wrote,"God must become man precisely because
He has done man a wrong through Job. He, the guardian of justice, knows
that every wrong must be expiated and Wisdom knows that moral law is
above even God. Because His creature has surpassed Him, God must
According to the Kabbalah, God went from being whole to fragmentary
during the act of creation. His "face" was shattered. He needs man as
His partner to end His suffering and do the Tikun (repair). Liberal Jewish
movements agrees with this and has placed responsibility on us, as people,
to fix our globe, and not think that doing ritual or not doing ritual
determines if good or evil things to occur.
Of course this leads to the question "Is God good?" The sages answer
"yes" and quote Exodus 34:6 "God, God, a God of tenderness and
compassion." But they further ask, "Why does He permit evil?" They answer
that "evil is the throne of good", and that good comes from evil. "The
indwelling Glory of God, embraces all worlds, good and evil...How can he
then bear in Himself the opposites good and evil? But in truth there is
no opposite, for evil is the throne of good." So if good comes from God,
where does evil come from? Evil also comes from God. "Now the spirit of
God left Saul and an evil spirit from God filled him" (1 Samuel 16:14).
The perfection of God lies not in being merely one thing or another, but
all things at all times. God is darkness and light and goodness and evil.
He is One. Satan, again a part of traditional Jewish belief, is not an
opposite of God, but part of God. He is the left-hand side of the Mind of
God. He is the left side of the Tree of the Ten Sephirot. Satan is not a
"he," but an adversarial thought in God's mind. Satan is God's yetzer ha
ra, His evil inclination.
In this month of Av we are taught that great evil befell us on the 9th
day (destructions of the Temples) but that great good came to us on the
15th day (no more people died in the wilderness of Sinai, peace came to
the tribe of Benjamin, the northern tribes were allowed to travel to the
south to Jerusalem again, and the martyrs of Behar (122 CE) were allowed
to be buried). The Kabbalah says that good things are born from evil.
They forecast that the Messiah will be born on the 9th of Av. Holiness
must be found in impurity, just as we as Jews have made the mundane into
the sacred. There is no Torah law commanding us to say a prayer before we
eat. This mitzvah is a rabbinic Talmudic law from Tractate Berachot
35A. The rabbis posit that one who eats before he says a prayer of thanks
to God, is like one who steals from God. There is the mitzvah of saying
grace after meals in this week's parasha (Deut. 8:10).
God loves us, but we are taught traditionally that He can also hate us.
God even tried to kill Moses! "When Moses had halted for the night, God
came to meet him and tried to kill him"(Exodus 4:24). Where as in last
week's parasha we are commanded to love God, in this week's portion we
are commanded to "fear God" (Deut. 10:12) as well as love Him. King David
in Psalm 111:10 writes "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and
they that have sound sense practice it." Or as Jung says "Even the
enlightened person remains what he is, and is never more than his own
limited ego before the One who dwells within him, whose form has no
knowable boundaries , who encompasses him on all sides, fathomless as the
abysms of the earth and as vast as the sky."
How do we as modern Jews today reconcile these theological differences?
What does it mean to us to be fearful of God? Do we walk around waiting
for lightning to strike us because we drove on Shabbat? Do we curse God
when bad things happen, or worse yet, accept the Shas rabbi's view that
we sinned somewhere in the past and we are being justly punished?
The answer lies in this week's parasha. In Deuteronomy 8:11-17 we are
told "Guard yourself...lest you eat, be satisfied, build nice homes, live
in them,... and become haughty, and forget God... and say my own might
and the strength of my hand have made me all of this wealth." Talmud
Tractate Sotah 5A teaches that we are commanded not to be haughty. When
we are arrogant and haughty, we are actually forgetting God.
We as spiritual Jews need to remember the many blessings we
do have from God and
continually to thank our Creator for them. We need not do it in the
traditional formalized prayer, but we do need to do it. If we forget
about God by being haughty , and only call upon His name when bad things
happen, then our understanding of God is shattered, as we only view Him
as a bandage for our suffering.
As spiritual Jews, we need to continually love God, be thankful to God, be
ever mindful of God, be in awe of God, but not fear God. The reformer,
the Ba'al Shem Tov, says not to do mitzvot because of fear of divine
retribution. He says that is childlike. He says to do mitzvot for our own
spiritual growth. Talmud Tractate Berachot 39A says there is no tangible
reward for doing mitzvot other than a spiritual one. Rabbi Akiva in
Talmud Tractate Berachot 61B compares a Jew without God and Torah to a
fish out of water. If we as modern Jews do not develop a healthy sense of
spirituality when things are going well, it is awfully hard to do so when
things are going poorly. This is the punishment of God's "blaze" and
"banishment." It is of our own making. This is why the liberal movement's
rabbis left the first part of the Shema in our prayer books so that we are
reminded to remember God and Torah so many times during the day.
The parasha's name of Eikev has even caused much debate. In simple terms
it means "if'", as in part of a contingency contract. Rashi translates it
as "because." Onkelos translates it as "reward", and the Midrash says it
What the Midrash is teaching is that it is not the big
commandments that folks tend to forget. Almost all Jews go to synagogues
on Yom Kippur and seders on Passover. The rabbis are trying to teach
that it is the ethical man-to-man laws that we tend to trample with our
heels. Rabbi Aaron Kotler writes that in our day-to-day encounters we
have many opportunities for good deeds that we trample under our feet in
our pursuit of "greater" things in life. Simple kindness and manners are
often overlooked. He writes that these seemingly insignificant encounters
ultimately define us.
As the songwriter Jackson Brown sang "Our character
is what we do when we think no one is looking." The Mishna asks "what is
the path that a person should cling to?" It does not answer
"halachah"(Jewish ritual law) which actually comes from the Hebrew word
for "path." The rabbis answer is "shachein tov....be a good neighbor!"
All we as spiritual Jews can do is the best that we can do as people. As
Isaiah, the author of this week's Haftorah says, we are to be a "light to
the nations "(Is. 49:06). Our goodness and kindness to others will yield
its own spiritual reward. "Shas" will happen. Our role as good Jews and
good people is not to be haughty, but to do ahavath chesed, acts of
loving kindness, to help each other when the inevitable bad things of
life do occur. This is the essence of our Jewish way of life. This is how
we can deal with the universal truth that "shas happens."
RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC
ORIGINAL VERSION WRITTEN WHEN SCHOLAR-IN-RESIDENCE AT CONGREGATION TEMPLE MICKVE ISRAEL, SAVANNAH,GA, USA
JEWISH SPRITUAL RENEWAL
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