A psalm by David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God: You are my God, I seek You. My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You; in a parched and thirsty land with no water. Thus to have beheld You in the Sanctuary, to see Your might and Your glory. For Your kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus shall I bless You all my life; in Your Name I shall lift my hands. It is as if my desire is sated with fat and abundance, when my mouth gives praise with joyous language. When I remember You upon my couch, in night watches I meditate upon You. For You have been a help for me; in the shelter of your wings I joyously sing. My soul cleaves after you; Your right arm has supported me. But they seek my soul for destruction; may they come to the depths of the earth. [The enemies] shall drag each one by the sword, the portion of foxes shall they be. The king shall rejoice in God; glorified will be everyone who swears by Him, when the mouth of the liars will be stopped.
–Psalm 63 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
For G-d, the union He is seeking happens in three forms: through Torah, through a mitzvah, and through prayer. It’s much like a love affair.
When we perform a mitzvah, the One Above and the Shechinah (played by us) are united in a kinetic activity within the material world. Think of an embrace uniting two bodies.
When we study Torah, the words of the Shechinah (spoken through our lips) are the words of the One Above. Think of a kiss, uniting two mouths.
And when we pray to Him, the Shechinah and the One Above are in intimate union in the deepest recesses of the spirit, sharing their very souls with one another. Think of mental and soulful communion with another, uniting two spirits.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Making Sense of It All”
From the “A Multimedia Guide to Jewish Prayer” series
You’ll have to read the entire article by Rabbi Freeman to get all of the background associated with this message, but as I tried to explain in my previous entry in this series of “meditations,” a relationship with God through prayer has almost “romantic” implications in terms of the level of intimacy involved. When reading David’s psalm as I’ve quoted it above, I can certainly see how David describes his longing for God as a man longs for a lover who is far away.
And I realized something else:
When I remember You upon my couch, in night watches I meditate upon You.
This relationship isn’t necessarily forged by God but by David. David was consumed with God, day and night. He prayed to God, wrote and sang songs to God, told others of God’s glory, praised the might and splendor of God. As I read this Psalm this morning, I realized that, while reading it, I felt closer to God. I realized that God is accessible, as long as I remain accessible to Him. Strange as it may sound, I, a lowly mortal being, can either let God into my life, or shut Him out. Seems odd that a mere person can have such control over whether or not to have God present or absent, doesn’t it?
In the wider context of Rabbi Freeman’s commentary on prayer for today, he talks about God being both outside and above and within and below. He is both transcendent of the Universe and intimately involved in it. It is God’s desire not to be “just” the grand and overarching Sovereign of all existence, but to be completely interwoven within its very fabric, including within the fabric of each and every one of us. In some way, He already is, because we all are created in His fabulous image; we each contain his “breath” or Divine essence.
That aspect of G-d is what we call the Divine Presence — Shechinah in Hebrew. That’s a very important word when discussing prayer. The Shechinah is sometimes described as the feminine aspect of G-d, and all of tefillah is about the Shechinah bonding with the One Above, reuniting the last two letters of G-d’s name, vav and hei, with the first two letters.
There is no place where the Shechinah is not found, although there are places where the Shechinah shines with greater intensity than in others. There are places, we say, where the Shechinah must be — as a sort of self-imposed exile. And there are places where She is because that is where She wants to be. Obviously She is those places much more openly.
The pre-eminent manifestation of the Shechinah in this world is within the human consciousness. G-d made a being “in His image” —i.e. a self-conscious, ego-laden being — and breathed His own consciousness into it.
This reminds me of something I read on Derek Lemen’s blog this morning when he was trying to describe the “Mystic Messiah.”
But God is not only transcendent. He is also immanent, present, with us, in the song as well as being the singer. Even now he communes with us in the hills. All the more so he will commune with us in the world to come, when brokenness is healed…
So Messiah is the divine man, one like a man, a Son of Man, but not a mere man. He transcends humanity while also being human. Divinity took on humanity in what had to be an inevitable event. How could God, who made humanity in his image, not take up humanity himself to redeem humanity? The logic of a low view of Messiah is simply rationalism (making our intellect and sensory experience the end-all of knowledge) while the logic of a high view of Messiah is mysticism (an openness to the mystery that we intuit and experience in the world). I choose mysticism.
I suppose this is why I am attracted to Chassidism and Kabbalah to some degree, because it’s the only way I can begin to make sense of a “Divine” Messiah and Lord, both human and more than human. No, I don’t understand it all and frankly, I don’t believe anyone else really understands it all either (in spite of what others may say to the contrary).
But in reading about prayer and the Messiah and God and His “glory” (Shechinah), I see over and over again that God is trying very hard to reach out to us and to reach us as human beings.
The Hebrew language does not lack synonyms, and there are several other verbs which could have been chosen to begin the verse: (Exodus 35:1) “And Moshe gathered together the children of Israel.” The word employed, vayakhel, is significant, for it implies the fusion of the people into a kahal or communal entity, far more than a collection of individuals. (See Tzafnas Paneach, Klalei HaTorah VehaMitzvos, entry tzibbur.)
A group which gathers together can also move apart, and even while together, the union is not complete. A kahal, by contrast, represents an eternal (For “a collective can never die” [Temurah 15b].) entity that unites individuals in a new framework, highlighting the fundamental bond that joins them.
Extending the metaphor just a bit, we can say that God relates to His people Israel as if they were a single person…as if God were the bridegroom and Israel was his bride, adorned in holiness and loveliness. I’m not quite sure how to extend this into the realm of Christianity. Classic Judaism would say this is not only impossible, but on some level, offensive to Jews. However, if we consider that the “church” (which I have to believe includes we non-Jewish disciples of the Messiah) is “the bride of Christ,” then we too may be considered so incredibly loved by God that we have an intimate and precious relationship with Him.
Christians don’t have a “peoplehood” together in the same manner or fashion as the Jewish people, but we can still be adopted by God and united with Him through the blood, love, and grace of Jesus Christ. But in describing the “peoplehood” of the Jews and the unity of Christians under God, I am not denying that each of us as individuals also enjoy a love relationship with God. I’m not trying to be overly “mushy” or sentimental, and I think that the awesome majesty of God is often watered down by the church, who sees God as some sort of cuddly, cute, cosmic teddy bear. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that ever since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, God has been making efforts to reconnect and “rebond” with human beings; to restore to our world what was lost in antiquity.
While that level of closeness with God is yet to come, we can still…I can still enjoy a closeness and “personalness” with God, as long as we…as I make the effort to spend time with Him, pondering, searching, reading, studying, and praying.
Now pick up a Jewish prayer book — whichever version you want — and make a quick survey. What is the most common word in these prayers? No, it’s not G-d. Neither is it please. Or sorry. Look again: It’s You — with a capital Y. If your prayer book uses thou, I give you permission to change all such instances to You. Because all of Jewish prayer is about one thing alone: i commune with You.
If that is the only mental focus you have throughout your prayers, you’re doing fine. If it’s missing, the whole essence of prayer is missing. Prayer is a union of these two consciousnesses, that which you feel within you, and that which you feel transcends you.
Once that has occurred, once that union is made, everything is transformed. That is why, unlike studying Torah or performing mitzvahs, prayer has the power to actually change the material world — to heal the sick, to cause rain to fall, to alter the flow of commerce. It is because the union of prayer is so deep, so intimate, of such an essence-level, that it elicits radical, unprecedented change.