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Beth Shalom Learning Reflections - 6/15/20

David Dirlam

How do we pray in a modern world beset by COVID-19 and demonstrations over police killings of blacks? Hal opened our rich discussion by asking whether we pray to anyone but God. The Rabbi answered that rabbis are not closer to God than people and that it helps to understand the Bible as metaphorical—"Avinu” means “our source” as much as “our father.” We should not get stuck in the literal, written prayers but become open to improvisation—to praying like ourselves. Janet added, not asking for anything.

Mark introduced a cross-cultural perspective with a 1942 Kurosawa film depicting a woman, called “pure” for praying selflessly. Doug responded with prayer being like his “runner’s high,” putting him in the picture of the universe. I added that music and the poetic hourglass arc of the service—happy, meditative, happy—give us the emotional context for prayer. Albert viewed God as not existing until we create him within ourselves through gratitude and a sense of humility. 

The Rabbi elaborated this through Yehuda Amichai’s wonderful short poem “Fashioning the Fashioner:”

I say with complete faith
that prayers preceded God.
Prayers fashioned God
God fashioned man
and man fashions prayers
that fashion God who fashions man.

Nancy asked about the meanings of prayer. The Rabbi illustrated his answer through his translation for children of the Aleinu (see Prayer Book for Shabbat Evening, p. 20). 

We concluded with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s insight:

Prayer is a confrontation with Him who demands justice and compassion, with Him who despises flattery and iniquity…. God reaches us as a claim. Religious responsibility is responsiveness to the claim. He brought us into being. He brought us out of slavery. And He demands.

Responsible moderns, like the ancients, pray to develop justice and compassion.

Sat, February 24 2024 15 Adar I 5784