An Introduction to a Prayer

Skill testing question:

Which of these two will be better able to focus on tefillah, and thereby have a great day:

Activity

Goldstein

Goldberg

Retiring to bed Falls asleep watching a rerun of Brain Dead while washing down pizza with cola on the couch. Mentally reviews the day, says the Shema Yisrael, falls asleep in bed reading Baal Shem Tov stories.
Waking up Rudely awakened by e-mail alert. Checks more e-mail and stock report before falling back asleep. Repeats until resigning himself to getting off the couch. Wakes up by circadian rhythm. Says Modeh Ani as approaching consciousness. Smiles when recalling Baal Shem Tov dreams.
Washing up Jumps off the couch in frenzied panic. Grabs mug, car keys and cellphone charger. Runs frantically to the car. Gently slides out of bed to greet the sunrise. Washes, takes care of bodily necessities and gets dressed. Washes hands and says morning blessings.
Breakfast Stumbles into Starbucks on the way to shul to grab a hyper-caffeinated brew. Gets into a yelling match with the attendant over the bill / change / brew / temperature / politics / whatever. Sips a hot drink while engaged in a half-hour Tanya class with the rabbi.
Meditation Listens to news and traffic report on car radio while sipping coffee, texting clients and hurling imprecations at fellow drivers. Sits quietly, pondering the morning lesson. Visualizes the continuous act of creation unfolding about us.
Prayers Takes care of some business decisions by cellphone while the minyan “warms up.” Jumps in late but catches up in no time. Sticks around to chat, then runs out in yet another mad rush. Phone is on buzz. Starts with the minyan, saying each word out loud. Ignores the buzzes.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
from the article “Prepare for Takeoff”
as part of the A Multimedia Guide to Jewish Prayer
Chabad.org

I have to admit that my first thought upon reading this comparison was, “Does Goldberg have a job?” My next question was, “Is Goldberg married?” Frankly, the way he starts his day seems absolutely wonderful and it goes along with the “mission statement” for my own blog:

When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.

But as pleasant and ideal as those thoughts happen to be, they aren’t always compatible with my lifestyle.

No, I’m not all that much like Goldstein. I don’t fall asleep watching TV, but by the time I’m ready for bed, my mind feels numb and it’s difficult to make it through even a truncated version of the Bedtime Shema. I hate alarm clocks, but I don’t have the luxury of waking up by circadian rhythm either, since I have a schedule to keep, usually even on the weekends. I do recite the Modeh Ani when I’m ready to get out of bed, but it’s short and easy to memorize (at least in English). I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about the Baal Shem Tov.

I do get out of bed and take care of “bodily necessities” but usually grab my first cup of coffee and read the funnies online as my initial entry into the day. Then, I’ll either eat breakfast in front of the computer or head for the gym to sweat for 45 minutes or so.

I hardly have the time for a half-hour Tanya class, even if I had access to such a resource, nor do I have the time to “sit quietly, pondering the morning lesson” and visualizing “the continuous act of creation unfolding about us.” It goes without saying that I don’t pray with a minyan.

I’m only sort of like Goldstein though, in that I’m not usually in such a hurry to get out of the house. I have my routine pretty well down, so I’m able to leave most mornings right on time at 7 a.m. I don’t stop for overpriced Starbucks swill, but I do listen to the radio, primarily for oldies rock and the traffic report. I’m not always happy with the other drivers I encounter on the morning commute.

And it looks like even Goldstein is able to pray with a minyan, although in his typical “rushed” fashion.

I know what Rabbi Freeman is saying and a lot of it is aimmed at Jews who live a religious Jewish lifestyle. There’s no reason why some of this couldn’t be adapted to a Christian morning routine, except I’d have to wake up at 3 a.m. instead of “by circadian rhythm” in order to have to time to meditate and pray in the measured and orderly fashion the Rabbi describes, and still have time for the gym and breakfast.

He’s right, though. If it were possible, the “Goldberg” style of going to bed and waking up is better for the body, the mind, and the spirit. If a person could establish and maintain such an evening and morning rhythm, they would be more likely to experience a sense of peace with themselves and with God.

But then, it would be much easier to accomplish if you lived alone and didn’t share the world with other people and other priorites. If you lived in a world that was ordered in complete consistency with such a spiritual lifestyle, it might work out. But for most of us, and particularly me, my world is not at all consistent with such a lifestyle, more’s the pity.

In the Mishna Berua Yomi Digest “Stories to Share” section for Shulchan Aruch Siman 447 Seif 8, the commentary “A Difficult Situation” describes such a person who is “out of sync” religiously with her husband, and much more than her peace of mind is at stake.

A woman who was a recent baalas teshuvah was approaching her first Pesach. Her husband absolutely refused to consider avoiding chometz, and she was at a loss as to how to proceed. Should she insist that she cannot live without him agreeing to no chometz in their home on Pesach, he was likely to divorce her, leaving her alone. She could try to convince him to let her leave for the holiday but was afraid he would refuse. She wondered if there was a halachic way to permit her to stay at home even if her husband had chometz there.

When she asked this question to her rabbi, he was baffled. “I have to admit that this is out of my league. I will take it to someone qualified to respond and see what he says…”

When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled that there was a halachic way for the woman to live at home even though her husband kept chometz—which he ate—in their house. “The best thing is if she can stay away from home on Pesach. But if this is impossible she can make a neder not to eat chometz. There is a precedent that even when we don’t believe that someone will avoid a prohibition for whatever reason, we are certain he or she will not forget if it is also prohibited for another reason like a vow. If she makes a neder, she can stay in their home if there is no choice.”

A woman who has committed to a greater religious lifestyle than her husband faced the horrible choice of keeping her commitment to Judaism and to God and losing her husband or preserving her marriage and forsaking God. In an interesting way, her story is not unlike that of another woman who is trying to make a similar commitment.

I am Jewish. It is how I identify myself. My father is Jewish. My mother is Christian.

My Judaism is a beautiful challenge; one I happily accept.

But the faith of my forefathers, of my peers, and of my family often frustrates me on a level that I cannot capture in words. Judaism cuts to the essence of who I am and challenges my identity. Judaism brings me a lot of joy; it also brings me pain…

In a letter to Ovadiah, Maimonides writes, “There is no difference whatever between you [the convert] and us… do not consider your origin as inferior.”

Maimonides’ words are a small part of a larger Jewish tradition that teaches to love the convert as oneself. Yet, the convert is also often reminded of his or her non-Jewish heritage. For example, he/she cannot make the declaration during the Bikkurim ceremony that “G-d swore to our forefathers, and to us” [Mishnah Bikkurim1:4].

I recently stopped dating someone, not because we were incompatible as people, but because he is a Kohen and I am a convert. If my origin is not supposed to be considered inferior, and if I am supposed to be loved as oneself, how am I supposed to feel when I am told that I cannot marry a Kohen because as a convert I am considered promiscuous? I grew up in a world surrounded by Jewish people. I am no more likely to have slept with a non-Jewish man than many of my fully Jewish counterparts.

-by “Ruth”
“A convert in a strange land”
Sunday, March 18, 2012/Adar 24, 5772
The Times of Israel

All I’m trying to do is “uncomplicate” my life and to find a sense of peace within myself and within my relationship with God. What complicates my plan is not only the struggles inside of myself but the world around me, starting with my immediate household and the practicalities of relationships, schedules, and priorities. I am religiously incompatible with my wife and daughter, but it’s not nearly as extreme as we see in the examples I quoted above. Both of those Jewish women find themselves at odds with either their spouse or with Judaism as a faith and as a people. They are both alike in their desire to “be more Jewish” and to have a closer relationship with the God of Israel.

In that very last part, I’m like them, too. But like them, I’m also facing the realities of the world and the people around me. The world will not become perfect this side of the Messiah, nor can I wait for that event to occur before attempting to climb the first rung of the ladder and lift myself from the bottom of the abyss.

According to Rabbi Freeman, the secret to being awake to God is how you fall asleep and even how you dream. I’m still sitting at the bottom of my dusty but not uncomfortable well. I’m still contemplating the first rung to the ladder God has set before me. But maybe this too is just a dream, and I am perpetually waiting to wake up.

It will be Monday morning when you read this and the rush of the beginning of the work week will have already begun. How did I sleep last night? What did I dream? When I woke up, where was my spirit, and where is God?

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