Rabbi Marc Rubenstein, Special to Valley News
We have been doing a lot of praying together for Rosh Hashanah, and we will be doing even more praying on Yom Kippur. I am convinced that prayer is terribly misunderstood. It is not, at least not for mature women and men, turning ourselves completely over to God and letting God do with us whatever he pleases. Rather, prayer is ideally the entering into a working partnership with God. The Hebrew word for “prayer” is tefillah, which means “standing in self-judgement.” To pray, then, is to stand in judgment of one’s self, to take stock in one’s self. And these High Holy Days are the time for prayer par excellence, for standing – or sitting – in self-judgment.
A colleague of mine, Sidney Greenberg, said that “even when prayer is not directly addressed to us, even when prayer is addressed to God, there is implied in it the understanding that we and God work together for the realization and fulfillment of those prayers …We are engaged in a great partnership, in a partnership with God. And we are expected to be active partners. We are expected to work for those things in which we believe and which we would like to see come to pass. There is not a single affliction from which we suffer – war, poverty, pollution, injustice, racial strife – that God can remove without our cooperation. There is not a single blessing we crave – world peace, food and shelter for all, clean air, a just society, domestic tranquility – that God can bring without our cooperation. A mature understanding of God looks upon God neither as a miracle worker, nor a magician, nor as a Messiah who provides instant cure for all the world’s ills. God is the power who works in us and through us to enable us to achieve those things that our faith in God assures us are capable of coming into being.”
Look at the prayer books that are in your hands. We ask God to be gracious unto us even though we are without merit, we ask for deliverance from calamities, we ask for good health and much more.
All of those things are good to pray for as long as we understand that each of them must become a catalyst for us for us to become the active partners with God.
I want to suggest 10 things to pray for as we gather together to begin a new year. First and second, let us pray for truth and honesty.
That prayer takes on a special significance in these days as we look at the world around us. But we need to pray for our own truth and honesty, the readiness to acknowledge the difference between faith and knowledge. Our word must always be our bond.
Third, let us pray for safety. We are living in very unsettling times. We need to pray for the safety of those who are serving our country in outposts of peril. We need to accompany our prayer with a resolve not to blanket every member of a group among which there are terrorists as a terrorist. Our prayer for safety needs to be accompanied by those actions that will make our streets and neighborhoods safer.
Fourth, let us pray for wealth. The traditional prayer of the High Holy Days is for parnassah tova or “ample sustenance.” I would hope we would all be guided by a commentary on the blessing uttered thousands of years ago and preserved in our Bible. The first line said, “May the Lord bless you and keep you,” and a very wise teacher long ago commented that we need to understand that blessing in this way: “May the Lord bless you with possessions and keep you from those possessions possessing you.” What we do with our wealth is a test of who we are. Sharing what we have with the less fortunate is a mandate to those of us who are bountifully blessed.
Fifth, let us pray for humility – not a self-effacing humility but rather a recognition of our dependence on others. It is not a self-deprecating humility but rather an acceptance of our own limitations of experience and knowledge.
From the bush that burned but was not consumed, God spoke to Moses and called him to take on the leadership position that eventually made him our people’s Great Emancipator. Eleazar ben Arak commented that God’s revelation took place in a bush to teach us that the loftiest may be found in the lowliest.
Let us cultivate “sweet reasonableness” and the understanding that when we’re reasonable we can see that there are many ways to get things done. The people in our lives are different from us, and so of course, they will go about doing things differently. Differently, not better or worse.
Let us pray and strive for humility.
Sixth, let us pray for health of the body, of the spirit and of our physical and psychic selves. Let us pray for the health and well-being of those near and dear to us and also pray for the health and well-being of the billions of people on the face of this earth, far too many of whom are afflicted by diseases that could be conquered with just a small investment of the resources that we squander away.
Seventh, let us pray for peace. It almost seems as though peace is destined to eternally elude us. Just when there are some glimmers of hope something inevitably interferes.
We need to pray for peace and to recognize that our prayers are for naught unless we become peacemakers. A prayer in our Mahzor said it so well, “We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end war; for we know that You have made the world in such a way that we must find the path to peace within ourselves and with our neighbors.”
Eighth, let us pray for love. We need to receive love and give love. And that love needs to be respectful. And, my friends, it needs to be expressed.
Years ago, Christopher Morley said something about that which was especially confirmed in the disaster of 9/11. He said, “If one were to be given five minutes’ warning before sudden death, five minutes to say what it had all meant to us, every telephone booth would be occupied by people trying to call up other people to stammer that they loved them.” Praying for love needs to be accompanied by acts of love.
Ninth, let us also pray for patience and try to cultivate patience. Last year I heard about a new book titled “The Power of Patience” by M.J. Ryan, who introduces the book by asking us to consider this:
“Some McDonald’s are promising lunch in 90 seconds or it’s free; the average doctor visit now lasts eight minutes; politicians currently take a mere 8.2 seconds to answer a question, regardless of the complexity of the topic; a popular all-you-can-eat buffet in Tokyo charges by the minute – the faster you eat, the cheaper it is; developers of high-rises have discovered an upward limit to the number of floors – the amount of time people are willing to wait for elevators. Fifteen seconds is what feels best; if it stretches to 30, we freak out.”
Now impatience often gets expressed in “road-rage, violence of all sorts, blow-ups at the office, divorce, yelling at our kids…”
Among the insights I discovered in that book, patience is something you do, it is not something you have or don’t have.
And last, let us pray for hope. Yes, friends, there is much to cause us to despair, but how wise was the person who observed, “Hope is the promissory note on life on which the principal never matures, but which pays compound interest to those who render their best services each day.”
There is so much to pray for. And if we understand prayer as a call to be active partners with God, we will accompany our prayers with the deeds that need to be done.
We will have missed the point, if the High Holy Days end with us thinking that we have aroused God and made God aware of us and our needs. Instead, put into practice the 10 things to pray for and 10 things to work for.
Congregation B’nai Chaim is located at 29500 Via Princesa in Murrieta. For more information, visit https://www.bnaichaim.com or find them on Facebook.