How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel. As for me, through Your abundant kindness, I will enter Your House. I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You. O HASHEM, I love the house where you dwell and the place where your glory resides. I will prostrate myself and bow, I will kneel before HASHEM my Maker. As for me, may my prayer to You HASHEM come at an opportune time; O God, in Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation.
“Mah Tovu (How Good)”
-from the Siddur
This is the beginning of the Shacharit or morning prayers, said by Jewish people around the world at the beginning of each day.
I have a sad confession to make. I don’t pray in the morning very often. The first hour or so after I get up is dedicated to a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and slowly waking up in front of my computer. Oh sure, I recite the Modeh Ani upon awakening, but that takes only a few seconds and I’m still in bed when I make the blessing.
However, this morning my son wasn’t feeling well and frankly, neither was I, so we decided to skip the 5 a.m. visit to the gym. I could have noodled around on the web or even read a book, but I decided to pray.
I began with extemporaneous prayer and my mind scattered all over the place. I kept trying to focus it back, but that would last only a few seconds. I can certainly see the benefits of hitbodeut since it actually encourages “talking” to God as one talks passionately to a close companion, but for that, I’d need to be completely alone (I don’t want to wake my wife and daughter).
Then I remembered my siddur. I opened it up to the Shacharis/Morning Services section and began to read. And I began to pray.
I know that I previously expressed some hesitation and even trepidation at attending the recent First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference. I wondered if I really belonged in a “Jewish” worship context anymore (or if I ever did). I wondered why it didn’t feel like “home” anymore.
But praying, even somewhat briefly, with the siddur this morning did feel like home. I limited my prayers, trying to avoid those that overtly identified the person praying as Jewish, but I feel as if the pattern and rhythm of the siddur is almost calling to me.
After Mah Tovu, I prayed Adon Olam (all this is in English and I’m softly reciting, not singing), skipped the blessings of the Torah, and continued with the liturgy up to the Akeidah portion.
It’s not very long, actually.
But why don’t I do this every morning? I can’t say I don’t have the time, because I can find the time.
Then I was reminded of something else that happened at the conference.
I won’t go into too many details, but one person giving a presentation referenced another individual present and called him a tzadik. This was because the person being referenced is scrupulous in all the prayers, rituals, and traditions of observant Judaism. He refrains from all inappropriate forms of work on the Shabbat and festivals, observes each time of prayer, davening in Hebrew, and otherwise is diligently mindful of his duty to Hashem…
…even though he’s not Jewish.
That last part’s important because it brings up the question of whether or not observing Jewish religious practices makes a non-Jew more holy, more righteous, more “tzadik-like.” Particularly as a non-Jewish person involved in the Messianic Jewish movement, however tangentially, do the Jews and Gentiles in that movement consider me a failure for not following Jewish religious observances?
After a wave of guilt passed over me, I realized that some of the most righteous men I know are Christians who probably don’t pray one word in Hebrew. I’ve come to develop a great admiration particularly for a few of the men at the church I attend. I’ve learned some things about one specific individual that he’d never tell me himself, but that are completely consistent with how I experience him.
If he were Jewish, I’d probably call him a tzadik. But what makes him such isn’t his “Jewish” observance, because as far as I know, he has none. What makes him such is that he is devoted to God in all of his ways, not only in prayer and worship, but in everything that he does.
How a life of righteousness looks, at least superficially, may be different depending on whether or not you’re a Christian or a Jew, but at the core, living a life that is pleasing to God should be the same regardless of who you are.
Jews pray and Christians pray. I remember my Pastor said that there were times in Israel when he was traveling with Jewish men. They would daven shacharit in a minyan and he would sit off to one side and silently pray, not intruding on them, but observing the holy time nonetheless. They all honored God and each other with their prayers and their devotion.
Jews give to charity and Christians give to charity. Jews visit the sick and Christians visit the sick. Jews feed the hungry and Christians feed the hungry. Jews gather together regularly to worship God and Christians gather together regularly to worship God.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
A “tzadik” isn’t just a Jewish righteous person, it’s any righteous person. Granted, the term itself is Jewish, but the concept behind it can be applied to any individual who seeks the will of God and then does the will of God.
I guess a Christian would use the word “saint” but I’m not quite sure it is an equivalent term exactly.
But the words used matter less than the life that’s lived. While in the example I cited above from the conference, one person acknowledged that another was a tzadik, but the recognition matters less than the life that’s lived, even if it is lived in obscurity so that no one knows.
But God knows.
God knows everything about the righteous and the unrighteous.
…as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”
–Romans 3:10-11 (NRSV)
There is no one who is righteous just because of who he is or what he does. Paul goes on in the same chapter to say that we are only righteous by faith. It is by faith that we seek God at all. It is by faith that we pray.
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski writes an online “column” for Aish.com called Growing Each Day in which he begins with a quote from the Bible, Talmud, the Siddur, or some similar text. He then writes a brief commentary and finishes by applying the principle to his own life (and by inference, his readers are invited to apply it to their lives in order to “grow each day.”
Adapting his model to today’s “extra meditation:”
Today I shall…
…seek God each morning by turning to Him in prayer, so that my life will begin to conform to His will.