Wednesday, September 28, 2011

High Holiday Advisory: How Not to Pray Like a Dog

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On Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, we all gather in synagogues, be they Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, and turn out hearts toward the G-d of Israel to request forgiveness and atonement, life and sustenance.

The Zohar, the foundational work of the Kaballah, says in the 6th Tikun: "Everyone howls in their prayers on Yom Kippur like dogs – ruff ruff! Give us sustenance and forgiveness and atonement and life etc… These people have audacity!"

The Zohar check. Could this be you?
What is the holy Zohar trying to communicate to us? On the one hand, the High Holiday prayer books are filled with supplications for forgiveness and sustenance, yet on the other hand the Zohar is telling us that these very prayers are like the prayer of a dog. Ouch!!!
The famous Jerusalem sage Rabbi Shlomo Fisher delivered a class in the Bet El Yeshiva yesterday in which he explained this passage of the Zohar in a way that has direct ramifications on how we should be praying on the High Holidays.
Rabbi Shlomo Fisher escorted by Bet El students yesterday

When a person is praying for his own longevity, livelihood, and atonement, he is likened to a dog coming before G-d and barking, "Give me, give me." To rectify this, a person must raise his perspective to ask on behalf of all of Israel – himself included. Then his prayers are heard.
But aren't all of the prayers of the High Holidays written in first person plural asking for all of Israel e.g. "Grant us forgiveness, grant us atonement." So, who is the Zohar talking about when it says that people are praying on Yom Kippur like a dog?

Rabbi Fisher explained to the students of the Bet El Yeshiva that it's not enough to pay the lip service of praying on behalf of all of Israel. It's a switch in mindset that starts with raising one's awareness of who the Jewish People are.

The Jewish People are the eternal people. This national trait was best described by Mark Twain in an article in Harpers Magazine in 1899:

"If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk…

"The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

"The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal, but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

Leo Tolstoy said it more succinctly:

 "The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity."
It's not about the individual Jew. Rather, the Jewish People as a whole are eternal by virtue of the fact that they were chosen to be G-d's representatives in this world. G-d is invisible, but we can see His reflection in the annals of the Jewish People.

When we pray for the material and spiritual advance of the Jewish People as a whole, we are, so to speak, "having mercy on G-d (Tikun HaShechina)," and concerning ourselves with strengthening G-d's image as perceived through the welfare of His people.  When the Jewish People prosper, it is a sanctification of G-d. When we sag, it is a desecration of G-d's name.
Coming back to the Rosh HaShana prayers, in order to really pray for all of Israel, one must hurt the pain of the Jewish people and rejoice in our nation's advance.  One must be aware of the poor, the orphans, the victims of anti-Israel aggressions, and every individual Jew's struggle to be more spiritual. We must ask forgiveness for all Jews everywhere and pray for life and blessing for the Jewish nation as a whole. When our supplications for ourselves come as an extension of our concern for the Jewish nation as a whole, then our barking is transformed into effective prayer.

One dog could really care less about another, but we as Jews must first and foremost pray for forgiveness, atonement, life and sustenance for those standing around us and in synagogues everywhere.

For example, instead of asking for increased income for yourself so that you make out a future for your children, give tzedaka, and accomplish other worthy endeavors, think about all the other Jews who have similar needs. Turn to G-d with a prayer like this: "Hashem, on behalf of all Jewish parents everywhere, I turn to you to ask you for increased sustenance to enable us all to raise our families in comfort, to provide a good Jewish and secular education for our children, to provide for our wives and make them the happiest wives in the world, to assist relatives and others in need. Please also strengthen the ecomony of the State of Israel, so that it will prosper in the world. Hashem, all Jews everywhere need livelihood and income, so please pour out an abundance of blessing to us all, and include me, your servant, amongst them with this specific need...."
As we approach the High Holiday prayers, let's learn from the Zohar to raise our perspective and take responsibility for Jews everywhere. As we come to ask G-d for what we want and need, let's broaden our hearts' desire to feel the needs of all Jews, and beseach G-d in our prayers on behalf of the entirety of our wonderful nation.

So yes, we must submit our case before G-d for our own material and spiritual needs, but only after and as an extension of begging for those of the Jewish People.

Shana tova from Bet El.

[See Rabbi Fisher's commentary on this topic in his book Beit Yishai – Drushim L'moedim, Volume I, Siman 16 (page 116)]

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1 comment:

  1. Steven from TorontoOctober 3, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    Really enjoyed this post. It is true. I have been praying like a dog for years asking Hashem to bring me a wife. In light of this small but important article, I will now first turn my heart to all Jews in my circumstance - singles, divorced, widowed - all of them, and pray that Hashem provide worthy spouses for us all, and that we all merit to build homes with peace in the home and children, etc.

    Thanks Baruch!

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