Tag Archives: prayer

Spiritual Surgery

It has always struck me as odd that the opening Tfila of Yom Kippur is Hatarat Nedarim (Annulling vows). Though not fulfilling a vow constitutes a transgression are they such a grave one that they specifically, and not our many other failings, deserve to be dealt with at so dramatically at the onset of Yom Kippur?    
When thinking of what we look like on Yom Kippur, I can’t help but think of a surgery: we dress in white, refrain from eating and drinking, isolate ourselves from the world and experience a mixture of worry and hope in anticipation of positive results.
That is exactly what Yom Kippur is – a spiritual surgery. We remove all material matters and concerns, sterilizing ourselves, allowing exclusive focus on the non-material aspects of our lives. We spend hours inspecting the layers that lay hidden beneath the surface of our identities, identifying the broken and ruptured organs of our personalities, removing negative elements, mending and tending.   
But, unlike a physical surgery, spiritual introspection requires something fundamental in order to succeed – the realization of how we came to need it to begin with. Our sins do not stem primarily from a lack information about our shortcomings, rather because we’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which we are unable to escape.
How often do we (or our children) say: “This is who I am”, “This is what I’ve always done”, “I can’t change” and similar statements?
Vows are just that – patterns that bind us to what we’ve thought, said, done and grown accustomed to, in the past year. Unless we first release ourselves from our destructive patterns, no fasting, praying, crying or singing will help. The surgery will fail, as after Yom Kippur we will find ourselves bound by the same patterns of thought and behavior we had a day earlier.
Hatarat Nedarim is dramatic for a reason. It is a legal and spiritual process after which one must realize they are not enslaved to their past and can say to themselves with full conviction “I must change” and therefore “I can change”, and, using the processes Yom Kippur – fasting, Tfila, Viduy, Slichot, etc… have a successful spiritual surgery resulting in a year of renewal, growth and holiness.

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Filed under Chagim/Holidays

How institutionalized prayer can rob you of your connection to God

Synagogues, as an institution of prayer, aren’t an authentic part of Judaism. Before the Temple was destroyed, there was no institutionalized prayer; no set language, no time constraints, no need for a quorum. A person got up in the morning, saw the rising sun, felt the falling rain and burst into a spontaneous prayer of thanks, praise or request. Prayer was the most direct and personal way for a Jew to express his relationship with God. 
So how did we get to what someone defined for me as: “Why do I pray to a God I can’t see in a language I don’t understand for things I don’t need?”
When the 2nd temple was destroyed that included the cancellation of the “Tamid” (“always”) sacrifices; the twice brought daily sacrifice was an expression of devotion by the entire nation which, naturally, was performed by their representatives- the priests- in the communal place of devotion- the temple.
When it was destroyed, so was the peoples’ ability – as a community – to express and manifest their relationship with God.
This is when prayer- as we know it today- was instituted. That is why we do it as a community. That is why the heart of prayer – Amida, the silent prayer – is worded in the plural and the requests are for communal needs.
So, there are 2 distinct concepts of prayer in Judaism:
1. Personal expression of one’s relationship with Hashem 
2. Representing the communal needs of the Jewish people
Over time, people have completely substituted the first with the second and have lost the ability, and possibly the inclination, of having a relationship with God as individuals and not exclusively through their association with the congregation.
Of course institutionalized prayer is still very important, just don’t let it rob you of of speaking to God whenever, wherever and however you want. Think of it this way – instead of using “thank God” in conversation with other people – try it in a conversation with Him. You may be surprised with the results. (250+)

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Filed under Halacha, Theology