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When You Haven't Got a Prayer

04/06/2015 08:10:00 AM


When You Haven't Got a Prayer
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

Very few people know that before she died, Evelyn Wood was hard at work on a revolutionary new speed reading program: "Davening Dynamics" -- for all of us left in the dust (or the pews) by the explosive speed of our liturgy. The truth is, we pray too fast. This is no surprise; in our culture, we do everything too fast --We drive too fast, eat too fast, talk too fast. But of all things, to pray too fast! We Rabbis push the Cantor to finish quicker. The Cantor pushes the congregation to get through. The Congregation stares at their watches, rolling their eyes, hoping the get home...for what? Is there something so compelling on TV that we can't spare ten minutes for silent meditation? Is there a social engagement, a tennis game, a repair man waiting at the door that we couldn't take fifteen more minutes to address what's most important in life?

The tradition teaches that one should pray every day. Begin the day with a few moments of meditation and reflection. Recollect the passions that brought us to this point in life. Reconnect with our deepest values. Evaluate where we are in life, and where we're going. Listen to the voice of the soul. Stand, if for but a few moments, in the presence of God, before sitting on the freeway on-ramp for half an hour. The tallis, the t'fillin, the words of the prayer book are ultimately just props to support a sense of intensity and intimacy.

I mention this tradition to my friends and they look at me as though I'd lost my mind. -- I'm not Orthodox, they respond. -- Yes, but you are human, I remind. -- Well, who has that kind of time?

The Hasidim have a tradition that each word of the Amida prayer is uniquely precious and deserving of its own Kavanah -- its own intense concentration. You say each word...and stay there, until you've fully internalized that word. You must fully realize the power and depth of each word. There's no hurry to get on to the next. At least, pray each word for one minute. It will take you about three hours to finish the whole prayer. But you'll be transformed.

Baruch ... what does it mean to say "Blessed" to the universe? In what ways am I blessed? How many blessing do I overlook each day? Whom do I bless? What does it mean to hold the power of blessing?

Attah ... what kind of chutzpah does it take to say YOU to the Creator?! The tradition could have taught, Baruch et Adonai --Blessed is God. In Hebrew, the article et, which introduces the grammatical object, and the pronoun attah are almost identical. Only the letter hey separates them in spelling. But an entire universe separates them in attitude. Et is cold, detached, and impersonal. Attah means intimacy, familiarity, caring.

Adonai ... the Name. An unpronounceable permutation of the verb "to be". All that was. All that is. All the ever will be. Including me. Eternity. The eternity that willed me into existence. For what purpose? For what mission?

Tomorrow morning, take three minutes for these three words. Baruch Attah Adonai. That's all, just three minutes first thing in the morning. Not for God. For you. Not to change God's mind. To change your mind. To lift you up. To bring you closer. To fill you with strength. Three words. Three minutes. And the rest of your life.

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Tue, August 11 2020 21 Av 5780