Tag Archives: siddur

The Shabbat That Was

O Lord of Legions, God of Israel, you created the world by your word, and you separated the Sabbath as a memorial; for on it you ceased from your work in order to meditate on the words of your Torah. For the Sabbath is a rest from creation, a completion of the world, a seeking of words of Torah, an expression of praise to God, to thank him for what he has given to mankind. Blessed are you O Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath.

Kiddush for Shabbat, p.17
from The Sabbath Table Prayer Book

If you’re familiar with the kiddush blessings, then you probably noticed this is a deviation from what is normally said. This particular blessing is the alternate wording recommended for Messianic Gentiles in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shabbat siddur and was part of my Erev Shabbat devotions last Friday evening.

But as the hours of my preparations finally reached fruition and I lit the Shabbos candles and offered the traditional blessings and praises to Hashem and welcomed the Shabbat Queen into my home, I was also undergoing an educational and hopefully a transformational experience.

But why would a Gentile believer observe the Shabbat and in fact, why should a Gentile believer observe Shabbos? After all, it’s the sign of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. What does that have to do with us, the rest of humanity, when the covenant specifically set Israel apart as Holy from all the other nations of the world?

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you. You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.

Exodus 31:12-17 (JPS Tanakh)

As the sign of the Sinai covenant, it would seem that only Israel, that is the Jewish people, should partake in observing the Shabbat, but there’s also acknowledgement of God as Creator in a seventh day rest. Even Hashem, Master of Creation, rested on the Sabbath day, according to midrash to contemplate His Torah. Since all of Creation, every living thing, was produced by the Word of God, and since all mankind was and is created in the Image of God, then there is sufficient precedence, in my opinion, to at least allow if not obligate “all flesh” to cease in our labors and on the seventh day, to bring honor, majesty, and glory to our Creator.

But there’s more. According to Kabbalistic tradition (see Zohar, Vayera 119a), each of the seven days of the week maps to the seven days of creation and they map to the seven millennia of creation. The Shabbat day then, corresponds to the seventh millennium which is thought of as the universal age of rest, the Messianic Era.

This was also mentioned in two of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series: Enter My Rest and A Sabbath Rest Remains.

As part of my review of the latter sermon, I said:

The Sages liken the Shabbat to the Kingdom of Heaven and the World to Come. It’s as if the days of the week and Shabbat represent the different ages of creation with the seventh day, the end of time, being a grand, millennial Shabbat, an age of great rest, and our weekly Sabbaths are merely a periodic reminder, down payment, or foretaste of that ultimate rest in Moshiach.

This seems to resolve Lancaster’s mystery or cliffhanger, but in fact, he states that it was a trick question. Since the Messianic Age is future oriented, then Hebrews 3 and 4 are not only a rendition of history but prophetic. It may surprise you to realize that all of the prophesies in the Bible have to do with Israel and Jerusalem and for all prophesies to be fulfilled, there must be an Israel and Jerusalem. No Israel, no fulfillment of prophesy.

So a literal Sabbath, a literal Land of Israel, and the Messianic Age to Come all figure into God’s rest and the object of Lancaster’s sermon for the past couple of weeks.

Tree of LifeSo not only in Jewish mystical tradition but from the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Apostolic Scriptures, we see that there is direct linkage between the seventh day Shabbat and the prophesy of the Messianic Kingdom to come, a Kingdom upon which we all put our hope.

So we Gentiles in Messiah have two reasons for looking to Shabbat as also something we can participate in: to acknowledge God as Creator and as a foretaste of the Messianic Era to come, when our King Messiah, Yeshua our Master, will usher in an age of unparalleled peace, justice, and mercy, the age of the resurrection, and a bringing to completion of the New Covenant promises when we will all know God!

But the era of Messiah is yet to come although he has already opened the door a crack, so to speak.

It was a lonely Erev Shabbat. I skipped over the blessings for the children and the Woman of Valor for obvious reasons. It seemed like an interminable wait until 5:01 p.m. (candle lighting for my little corner of the world) on Friday, but once it arrived, everything went much too quickly. Even after the blessings and the meal, I think there was still some last moments of light in the sky. If this had been a meal in community or among family, there’d have been a lot more activity and sharing, but in the end, there was only me and God. But it was sufficient.

On Saturday, I did what I always do, well, sort of. I studied from A Daily Dose of Torah for Shabbos, read the Torah portion, Haftarah, and the associated readings from the Psalms and the Gospels. Then I studied the commentary for the Torah portion from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah.

And I learned why Gentiles benefit from observing a Shabbat rest and from Torah study.

The quality of one’s life is not dependent on external situations. There are people whose lives seem to run quite smoothly. Nevertheless, they tend to evaluate minor frustrations as tragedies and therefore view their lives in negative terms. The Torah ideal is to be aware that the purpose of your life is to perfect your character and every life situation is an opportunity for growth.

This lesson is most important for us to internalize. See the growth possible in every life event. In each difficult situation ask yourself, “How can I become a better person because of what happened?”

-R. Pliskin
Commentary for Chayai Sarah
“See the good in every life situation,” p.52-3

I periodically encounter people (mostly online these days) who believe that only they obey God’s Torah perfectly as they completely reject the so-called “traditions of men,” or the Rabbinic commentary on and interpretation of the mitzvot. Unfortunately, this reduces the commandments of God to a lengthy but simple list of “do this” and “don’t do that” with no colors, nuances, or wonder. It’s like a child doing what his or her father commands, let’s say not running into the street, not because the child comprehends the intrinsic danger involved and perceives the value of life, but simply because they were told to.

The study of Torah is an exploration into the self, a journey of discovery and wonder as we investigate what it is, as an individual human being, to be a creation of God and indeed, to be made in His unique and marvelous Image. The Torah tells a story that involves each one of us, but not in identical ways. What I discover about myself in the light of Torah will be different from what another person discovers. What a Gentile finds revealed in his or her soul by Torah study and the Shabbat rest will be different from what a Jew unveils about his or her character.

Like it or not, God created each of us as individual and unique persons. No two of us are alike but that hardly means that, as individuals, we are excluded from community. Even though we are individuals and are distinct from one another, we also have commonality and based on that, we form groups and collective associations; assemblies, if you will.

For a non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah to observe the Shabbat in some fashion, and to study the Torah of Moses, the Writings, the Prophets, and the Apostolic Scriptures, unites us with our Jewish counterparts in the ekklesia of our Master, Messiah Yeshua. It doesn’t make us “cookie-cutter clones” of one another, but lacking absolute uniformity doesn’t automatically lead to division and isolation, anymore than my being a man and my wife being a woman means we have nothing in common and cannot be a family together.

In my own case, the fact that I’m a non-Jewish man married to a Jewish woman and the father of three Jewish children adds a dimension in Torah study and the Shabbat that only increases my understanding of both the commonality and distinctiveness between Gentile and Jew. The irony here is, in terms of the Shabbat, I could only make that discovery while spending a week apart from my Jewish family.

PrayingBut though I lacked, I also gained in abundance.

I said the Shacharit for Shabbat for the first time in a long time, and even donned my old kippah for the occasion, davening from my aging Artscroll Sefard Siddur (making some minor wording adjustments as necessary). I was reminded of the beauty of the prayers, particularly on Shabbat, including the blessings recited just before the Shema:

Our Father, merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill understanding in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of your Torah’s teaching with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and revere Your Name, so that we may not feel inner shame nor be humiliated, nor stumble for all eternity. Because we have trusted in Your great, mighty and awesome Holy Name, may we exult and rejoice in Your salvation.

I believe those words can apply equally well when said by a Gentile as by a Jew with the understanding that what we are to understand, what we are to hear, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, to perform, to fulfill, is what has been set before each of us as our portion.

When a Gentile observes the Shabbat, when a Gentile studies Torah, it’s not a matter of rote imitation of Jewish tradition and ritual or worse, it’s not with the idea that Gentiles can “do it better” than Jews because only we know how to obey scripture without the “interference” of the Jewish sages and their “man-made laws,” arrogantly setting ourselves up as having superior knowledge of Torah and the commandments.

The Shabbat and the Torah provides a fourfold blessing for everyone but particularly for the Gentile believer. In these practices, we join with God in praising Him as our Creator. We also experience a foretaste of the future Age of Messiah in which we will have blessings and peace in abundance, as if every day was a Shabbat. Even studying alone or observing Shabbat individually, in praising God and saying the blessings, we are joined in Spirit with all those Jews and Gentiles who also adore Hashem and cleave to the hope of Messiah. Finally, the Shabbat and Torah reveals who we are as individuals, our unique identity that God assigned each and every one of us, and our individual and special role as servants of Messiah, may he come soon and in our day.

Advertisements

My Shabbat That Wasn’t

Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Sabbath.

-from the Artscroll Sefard Siddur

That’s as far as I got on observing Erev Shabbat or really all of the Shabbat yesterday (as you read this). I dropped my wife and daughter off at the airport very early on Friday morning and thought I had the whole day ahead of me to make Erev Shabbat preparations.

But my plans were already unraveling.

Actually, this all started Thursday afternoon as I was driving home from work. Like an estimated 50 million people worldwide, I suffer from a form of tinnitus or what some people call “ringing in the ears.” For me, it’s always present in my left ear and occasionally I’ll hear intermittent sounds in my right, usually when under stress.

Most of the time, I can ignore it unless it’s very quiet, and even when I’m trying to sleep, it’s more like a form of “white noise” so it doesn’t prevent me from dozing off.

But for some unknown reason on Thursday afternoon, my right ear started perceiving loud and highly distracting sounds, so much so that at their worse, they actually blocked out the tinnitus noise I experience in my left ear.

Any loud noise, especially a sudden noise like a car door slamming, was like having my head shoved in an echo chamber. All sudden sounds had a clanging “metallic” quality that seemed to bounce back and forth inside my skull.

The long and the short of it is that I got a grand total of two to two and a half hours of sleep Thursday night/Friday morning. By the time I took my family to the airport at 5 a.m., my hearing was back to normal (what’s normal for me), but I felt like my brain was packed with boiled inner tubes and rusty railroad spikes. On top of that, there were two tasks that had suddenly come up that had to be resolved on Friday without fail.

Between my inability to concentrate and having to focus (as best I could) on all of the phone calls and appointments related to solving the two issues in question (they’re personal enough for me not to share them online), any time I had to organize Erev Shabbat observance was consumed.

The good news is that everything that needed to get done got done more than an hour before sundown. I have to thank the kind and understanding people involved for going the extra mile and helping me achieve my goals. I was very impressed with the amount of caring that these people extended to someone they had never met before.

The bad news is that by the time that candle lighting came around, I didn’t have anything prepared besides the candles. So I kindled the Shabbat lights, said the blessings, and instead of a hearty meal, challah, and wine, I settled for a couple of tamales and a beer. Actually, they were very good tamales and a very tasty Fat Tire amber ale.

But I learned a few things.

I can’t remember the source and a quick Google search yields no useful results, but I recall reading a Shabbat commentary stating that a particular Rabbi would spend all week preparing for his Shabbat observance. At some point mid-week, when he found a lamb he wanted to roast for the Erev Shabbat meal, he would loudly declare, “This is for Shabbat!” He would do this anytime he acquired something to be used in honor of the Shabbat.

I can see I will need to do the same. OK, not the loud, public declarations, but spending the entire week gathering and preparing for Friday afternoon.

While The Sabbath Table seems like a highly useful resource, I’m going to have to spend more time with it to map the flow of the prayers to my needs, particularly since I’ll be observing Shabbos as an individual, and particularly because I’m not Jewish.

Also, while I have a pretty good idea of the level of observance I will attempt, I will need to “nail down” what I want to do so that I don’t spend my rest fumbling over the prayers and worrying about procedure when I need to be welcoming the Shabbat Queen.

Which brings up an interesting question: my level of observance. I know some people will be thinking that I’m “picking and choosing” the “rules” to Shabbat rather than relying on the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Like it or not, though, there is preparation that goes into Shabbat and there are different standards of observance. I want this to be a joy, not a cumbersome activity, and “loading up” on a series of mitzvot that I don’t understand and have never performed before will just distract me from the actual purpose of my Shabbos Project, which is to honor God and experience some small foretaste of the coming Messianic Kingdom.

shabbatFor the rest of it, I can choose a wine, challah or at least some other acceptable substitute, and particularly plan out meals so I don’t find myself in a situation where I’m without an appropriate meal or snack at any point during the twenty-four plus hours of Shabbos.

I’ve come to think of the mitzvot related to Shabbat not in terms of restrictions and how much I want to be “obligated,” but rather how much I want to be blessed. The less “weekly baggage” I employ, the more of me, my thoughts, feelings, attention, and behavior is turned on this holy day to God.

Much of the Book of Exodus is dedicated to the exquisitely fine details of preparing to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert along with all of the objects to be used, the robes of the priests, and everything else. The lists of activities and materials can seem mind numbing to read through, and I’m sure there have been more than a few people who have struggled with this section of the Torah and couldn’t wait to get past it to more “interesting” stories.

But consider. It takes all of this preparation (this is only a small sample)…

You shall make on the breastpiece chains of twisted cordage work in pure gold. You shall make on the breastpiece two rings of gold, and shall put the two rings on the two ends of the breastpiece. You shall put the two cords of gold on the two rings at the ends of the breastpiece. You shall put the other two ends of the two cords on the two filigree settings, and put them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, at the front of it. You shall make two rings of gold and shall place them on the two ends of the breastpiece, on the edge of it, which is toward the inner side of the ephod. You shall make two rings of gold and put them on the bottom of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, on the front of it close to the place where it is joined, above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. They shall bind the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it will be on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece will not come loose from the ephod.

Exodus 28:22-28 (NASB)

…to get to the “big event:”

He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Exodus 40:33-38

If all of the details God provided Moses had not been attended to exactly as God had given them, then there would not have been the dwelling of the Divine Presence among the Children of Israel.

In my reading, I came across an interesting detail:

You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.

Exodus 35:3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The Tanakh commentary for this verse states:

The Torah can be understood only as it is interpreted by the Oral Law, which God taught to Moses, and which he transmitted to the nation. The Oral Law makes clear that only the creation of a fire and such use of it as cooking and baking are forbidden, but there is no prohibition against enjoying its light and heat. Deviant sects that denied the teachings of the Sages misinterpreted this passage, so they would sit in the dark throughout the Sabbath, just as they sat in spiritual darkness all their lives.

I know a lot of people who will disagree with the above-quoted paragraph, but since the Torah is very limited in telling us exactly how one is to observe the Shabbat, whether you think the Oral Law was given to Moses or it is the compilation of Rabbinic rulings and commentaries about the Shabbat and all the other mitzvot, the fact remains that Judaism, the inheritor of the twelve tribes and of the Torah, has been the keeper of the Shabbat for more than 3500 years. Like it or not, when a non-Jew and a disciple of the Messiah enters into any form of Shabbat observance, we’re entering Jewish worship and ritual space.

praying alonePages 131 to 155 of Aaron Eby’s book First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer contain a minimalist siddur adapted for use by Messianic Gentiles (that would be me). Starting this (Sunday) morning, and at least for the next week, I intend to participate in regular prayer time in a more formal manner than I’ve become accustomed to.

Some years ago, I all but stopped using a siddur in prayer as part of my effort in backing out of Jewish space and honoring my wife who, as a Jew, thought it rather strange that a Christian Goy like me would be doing “Jewish” stuff. However, for the next week, it’ll just be me at home…well, me and God, and I find myself drawn to something I’ve missed.

No, I won’t be donning a tallit and kippah or laying tefillin (and in any event, although Aaron believes under certain circumstances these practices are appropriate for Gentiles, he did not include the applicable blessings for the use of such objects in his book). I’m a Messianic Gentile and am interpreting the will of my Master in this way. I’m not telling you what you have to do or should do. I’m describing what I did last week that didn’t work, and what I’m going to do in the coming week to enter a place that is a brief and precious portrait of the coming age of Messiah, may he reign in power and glory.

Who is Righteous?

goodly-tents-of-jacobHow 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.

israel_prayingIf 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.

Good Shabbos.

110 days.

Experiencing Prayer

Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, used to pray at great length. Sometimes his prayers would take hours. Near Mezeritch there lived a learned man who, like the Maggid, also used to pray according to the kavanot (mystical intentions) taught by the holy Ari (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) of Safed, but whose prayers did not take so long. When he heard about how much time the Maggid spent, he was perplexed, and wanted to know the reason. He decided to ask the Maggid himself.

Once a year this learned man, who also happened to be quite wealthy, would travel to the great fair in Leipzig. There he would invest some of his capital in merchandise, which he would then sell in his hometown upon his return at a good profit. He was able to live off the proceeds from these transactions for the rest of the year, while he devoted his time to Torah study and prayer. On his next such business trip, he made a point to pass through Mezeritch and stop there.

Witnessing for himself the Maggid’s lengthy prayers, he was amazed. At his first opportunity to speak privately to the Maggid, the wealthy scholar said, “I also pray according to the special mystical intentions taught by the holy Ari, yet I don’t find the necessity to extend my prayers for so long.”

Instead of answering directly, the Maggid expressed interest in how his guest made a living. The man explained how it was enough for him to travel once a year to Leipzig to invest in merchandise, which he then sold for a good profit in the area where he lived.

“But how do you know that you have made a profit?” inquired the Maggid.

“Simple. I enter all my capital expenditures and traveling expenses in my ledger, and subtract their sum from the total amount of income from sales. The remainder is my profit,” replied the merchant, wondering why the rebbe was so interested in the details of his business.

“But why,” the Maggid asked innocently, “do you waste all that time and money traveling to Leipzig and back? Why don’t you just write all the credit and debit figures down in your ledger and calculate your profits that way, without fuss?”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the merchant. “Is it possible to think that from writing numbers can come a profit without bothering to do anything else? Ha, ha, ha. Of course, you have to travel and buy and sell before the profit can be real, not just theoretical.”

“Well,” said the Maggid, “the kavanot are like merchandise: if they are not fully possessed in your mind and heart as if you were ‘there,’ it is like writing profit figures on a piece of paper without doing the business work. On the other hand, if you are firmly attached ‘there,’ you can then acquire some excellent ‘merchandise’ and make a handsome profit with the kavanot.

“But that,” concluded the Maggid to his astonished visitor, “requires extended time and investment in prayer.”

Translated/retold from Reshimas Devarim, vol. 4.
“The Prayer Business”
-Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles
Chabad.org

Man should ponder thoughtfully how great are the kindnesses of the Creator: Such a puny insignificant being, Man, can bring great delight to the “Greatest of all great”‘ of Whom it is written, “There is no delving into His greatness.” (Psalm 145:1) Man ought therefore always be inspired, and perform his avoda with an eager heart and spirit.

“Today’s Day”
Sunday, Kislev 8, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I’m not really a “mystic” sort of guy. I enjoy reading (I don’t seriously study mysticism) mystic commentaries and texts because I find they work wonderfully as metaphors of moral and spiritual concepts and ideas. Mysticism is a very good way to tell stories about people and God, which is why I’m fond of the writings of the Chassidim and Chabad.

So try not to take the commentary about prayer I quoted above as if I think this is a literal truth, although for some, I imagine it is. I latched onto it mainly because it makes me think about prayer and what it’s supposed to mean. Hopefully, it’ll make you think more about prayer, too.

DaveningIn yesterday’s morning meditation, I spoke a bit about my use of the Modeh Ani and Bedtime Shema blessings in my own life. Prayer is difficult for me, at least lengthy prayer, because I find that so many random thoughts and emotions creep in when I’m trying to talk (and listen) to God. Since the Modeh Ani is fairly short and I recite it from memory, there isn’t time for anything else to interfere, and since I recite the ending portion of the Bedtime Shema from my siddur, the fact that I’m reading from text helps focus my thoughts and my intention.

I actually have been thinking more about prayer since I read a friend’s commentary on his own experiences recently:

Early this morning before my flight had left the gate, I was quietly (and discreetly) praying Birchot Hashachar (morning blessings) from my pocket siddur when suddenly the woman sitting next to me asked me, “What language is that?” “Hebrew,” I replied. “Oh, I thought it was Greek,” she said.

“Well, I actually know that, too,” I said, which then led into an extensive conversation that unfortunately I was too tired to engage in and, B”H, managed to escape shortly after takeoff by falling asleep for the duration of the flight. (A window seat and foam earplugs are always my best friends on a flight.) Then after landing, I went to the airport chapel to pray Shacharit. I must have prayed Shacharit there countless times while travelling, and I usually have the chapel all to myself. Sometimes other people enter the chapel for some quiet moments while I’m there and they see me wearing my tallit and tefillin, which I can only imagine how that might look to them if they’re unfamiliar with Judaism. Usually they only stay for 30 seconds—one minute at most—and then they promptly leave. (I can always sense their feelings of uncomfortability and awkwardness.)

However, this morning while I was donning my tefillin, a clean cut, black gentleman dressed in a suit and tie entered the chapel and sat down a few seats behind me. I politely said “Good morning” to him, then began quietly praying Pesukei d’Zimra and continued with my usual morning prayer routine as quietly and discreetly as possible. Amazingly, however, he actually stayed. A few minutes later, when I was between the Shma and Amidah, he began walking toward the exit, but then quickly turned around, boldly approached me, and asked me forthright, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” I was a bit taken aback by his question and it took me a few seconds to process it. “Yes, I do,” I responded, although somewhat apprehensively. “Oh, praise the L-RD,” he said, and reached out to shake my hand. “Something in my heart told me to ask you that. I’ve heard of you guys. Yeshua Ha-ma-shee-ah?” “Yeshua Hamashiach,” I affirmed. And then he suddenly walked out with this big smile on his face while I was left there wondering what that was all about.

Depending on who you are and how and where you pray, you aren’t always praying alone and your prayer life may have some sort of impact on others. Of course, even when I prayed with a siddur, I rarely prayed in public (unless it was at a worship service where everyone was using a siddur), so I never had these sorts of encounters. But in reading the comments of my friend about his own experiences, I was reminded of the beauty of the Jewish prayers and how the early Jewish believers gathered daily to recite the prayers at Solomon’s colonnade at the Temple in Jerusalem.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but last spring, when I was attending the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Shabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin, I had a wonderful experience. One morning, I arrived at the congregation early and was sitting in the main sanctuary waiting for services to begin. In the distance, I heard men davening Shacharit in Hebrew. I followed the sound into the library and discovered the men were praying together in an upper room. Not wishing to disturb them (and my Hebrew is more than abysmal), I chose to stand underneath the room and just listen.

If you’ve ever heard men praying the Hebrew prayers before, you know it is a beautiful sound and even without understanding all of the words (I’ve been around the prayers enough to be able to generally follow them), I felt myself transported in a sense, lifted up into the spirit of the prayer, and found myself drawing closer to God.

I don’t think you have to pray in Hebrew to draw closer to God, but there’s something about a minyan davening (not that I can qualify to pray with a minyan) that brings me into communion with God in a way I’ve never found when praying or singing hymns in a church.

Be that as it may, we are each responsible for our own prayer life and thus our relationship with God. And yet for me, prayer is one of the most difficult parts of my relationship with God. I receive great joy in reading the Bible and various commentaries and studies, but spending time alone with God is so difficult, again because my brain keeps getting in the way. I think that’s why I like praying with a siddur because it helps me focus my intention upon God and praising His Name. Praying “alone,” that is, without a siddur, allows the noise and static of my own thoughts to completely take over, and I find myself drowning in the sound that my brain generates rather than rising above my own existence and approaching the Creator.

When I go to church, we pray, but it somehow isn’t the same. When I go to Sunday school, we pray, but it’s not like we’re praying together. This too I think is one of the “weaknesses” of Protestantism.

I don’t really have an answer to my conundrum, but I think Rabbi DovBer has an answer that works, at least for some Jewish people (or people of faith), in that you have to invest in your prayers rather than just use praying as a “remote control” method of communication. Prayer requires time, discipline, and an investment of purpose. I haven’t attempted such a thing for a very long time. For me, Modeh Ani and the Bedtime Shema are a beginning, but unlike my friend, I haven’t extended myself to pray at set times, and particularly wouldn’t do so if I was in a public place such as an airport (and I didn’t even know airports had chapels).

Is my experience common or am I an oddball in his area of faith as well? What are your experiences like? Is anyone willing to share?

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart

Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our God, Hashem is the One and Only. You shall love Hashem, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources. And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 (Stone Edition Chumash)

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

While many Christians firmly believe that the teachings of Jesus replaced the teachings of Moses, we see here a clear and compelling illustration that not only did Jesus draw what he taught from the Torah, he created the rock-solid foundation of everything he taught from the Torah and specifically the Shema, the most holy of all the Jewish prayers.

I’ve written about this before. I’ve written that loving God cannot be divorced from loving other people and if we say that we do love God with all of our hearts, then we must love other people in tangible ways, providing for the needy, feeding the hungry, showing compassion for the grieving.

But is behavior all that God commands?

This week’s reading contains “Shema Yisrael” — “Hear, oh Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One.” [Deut. 6:4] And what is the next verse? “And you will love HaShem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” The commentaries explain that this commands every Jewish person to be so consumed by love of G-d that he or she is prepared to give up his or her last penny, or, in fact, his or her life…

But how can the Torah demand that a person love? How do you require emotion?

Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“For the Love of G-d”
Commentary on Torah Portion Va’ethanan
ProjectGenesis.org

How can God command us to experience an emotion for Him? How can God actually command us to love Him? I can see how He can command us to exhibit various behaviors or refrain from other behaviors. Feed the hungry. Don’t carry a grudge. But love? We know when we love someone, but it’s not as if my wife or children can actually order me to love them. I just do.

One answer is to consider “love as a verb.” That is, instead of focusing on that warm and fuzzy feeling that is sometimes associated with romantic love for example, we can focus on what we do that results from that feeling. Now take it a step further. Don’t wait for the feeling. Just start behaving in a loving manner by doing all of the things that indicate love.

Rabbi Menken continues:

There are two ways to develop an emotion like love. The first is to appreciate everything that has been given to you. Gratitude towards a person, such as a parent or spouse, makes you love them more, and so to with G-d.

The other goes still deeper — and, at its root, offers one reason why Judaism involves so many Commandments. When you do something for someone, that in and of itself instills love for that person in your own heart. Parents, especially, see every day that love in the heart is enhanced by love in action, by investing energy and effort into a child.

Whether between man and man or man and G-d, each and every day we are offered countless opportunities to choose to follow G-d’s Will. And when we follow His Will with a deep understanding of His love for us, and motivated by our love for Him, then that causes us to love Him more.

How do we love God? As it turns out, the feeling may not always come before the action. Yes, we may experience a sense of gratitude when we realize all that God has done for us and in turn, respond by experiencing the feeling of “love” for Him. More often though, our response to God is not a feeling but an action. In this case, since there’s nothing we can really do for God since He has no needs and for God, nothing is missing, we show love for God by showing love for people.

This is how God can command us to love Him and this is why Jesus fused the two commandments of loving God and loving others together in such a way that they are always joined.

The more we obey the commandments, the more we show love for other people, and thus, the more we show love for God, using our emotions, our spirit, and our tangible resources.

A few days ago, I mentioned that for a Jew, studying Torah was an act of loving God and as Rabbi Menken says:

The Sages tell us that “the study of Torah is equal to them all.” When we study G-d’s Torah, we observe His Commandment to do so, we perceive His incredible wisdom, and by doing so with love, we increase our love of G-d and His Torah at the same time.

While Christians do study the Bible as a way to learn more about our faith and to draw closer to God, we don’t typically conceptualize the act of study, either alone or with a group, as an act of love.

Maybe that’s a good idea since if we did, we might be less motivated to actually get away from our books and our computers, and actually do something for somebody else. And after all, there are enough pundits, religious and otherwise, spouting off in the blogosphere or in social networking venues such as twitter and Facebook (and gosh, did I just describe myself?).

On the other hand, studying is by far, the safer option. Here’s why.

At times there is so much suffering in the world that a sensitive person finds it difficult to tolerate. The Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzhak Zev Soloveitchik, applied the following Talmudic statement as his advice for such people in such times: “He who wants to live should act as if he were dead.”

There are times when human suffering is so great that a person who feels the suffering of others will simply not be able to continue living. While we have an obligation to feel the suffering of others, we should protect ourselves from overdoing it and destroying ourselves.

At times, said the Brisker Rav, we should adopt an attitude as if we were no longer alive and only then will we be able to exist.

-Moadim U’zmanim
Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.257
Aish.com

HomelessIt isn’t easy to suffer. It’s also not easy to watch someone else suffer. Yes, there are things that we can and must do to alleviate the suffering of others, but let’s face it, we can’t always help. If someone is suffering from terrible cancer and the sometimes worse effects of chemotherapy treatment, what can we do? We can clean their house, cook food for them, do their yardwork, drive them to medical appointments, but we can’t miraculously cure their cancer or make the hideous side effects of chemo go away. We can pray and pray with all of our heart and soul that God will provide a complete physical and spiritual healing from Heaven for this person, but often, we don’t see that healing arriving anytime soon or at all, at least not in the matter that we desire.

So we should stop feeling? We should stop caring? Even if we could do that, and even if that would protect our own emotions, it would also stop us from expressing our concern for the living and the dying. How can we do that, just go through the motions of helping as if we were a machine?

Should we then stop helping because it is too painful or, Heaven forbid, because we might feel that our help isn’t appreciated enough?

Don’t regret good deeds when you end up suffering. In every business there are negative aspects. When you do acts of kindness, realize in advance there are likely to be some unpleasant aspects and accept them.

Realize that when you help others you are helping yourself. You will find it easier to tolerate difficulties.

-Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch
Shiurey Da’as, p.116
Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.254
Aish.com

How ironic that this all comes full circle. We desire to love God, so we love others by helping them. Now we learn that by helping another person, even when providing that help causes us to suffer as well, we are also helping ourselves. So to love God is to love others…and to love ourselves. Maybe that’s why the commandment for loving others says, “and you should love your neighbor as yourself.”

I sometimes regret that saying the Shema twice daily is only for the Jews. At one time, I also recited the Shema, but that was another lifetime, so to speak. That was when I believed that God opened the doorway to the Sinai covenant so wide, that everyone was supposed to walk through. Now I realize that my doorway to God is provided exclusively by Jesus Christ and it is through Him and what I think of as the “Messianic covenant” that I am alive in the Lord.

But that doesn’t make me a Jew.

However, it does make me a disciple of the Master and as I continue learning how to love God, I realize that He loves me too, and far, far more than I could ever be able to love Him.

As a father is merciful towards his children, so has Hashem shown mercy to those who fear Him. For He knew our nature; He is mindful that we are dust. Frail man, his days are like grass; like a sprout of the field, so he sprouts. When a wind passes over it, it is gone, and its place recognizes it no more. But the kindness of Hashem is forever and ever upon those who fear Him, and His righteousness is upon children’s children, to those who keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commands to fulfill them. –Psalm 103:13-18 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

PrayingOf course, the Psalmist was writing about the ancient Israelites and the commandments of the Torah, so perhaps I’m taking liberties in applying his words to we Christians and particularly to myself. But the teachings of Jesus are replete with words of love for his disciples and indeed for humanity, as the famously quoted John 3:16 attests. I have no fear that by God loving the Jewish people, He loves everybody else any less, for God’s love is as infinite as His Being.

And so as He loves, we should also love, or at least we should love to the limits of our human abilities. We are commanded to love Him and we are commanded to love each other. By this we realize that God loves us and that we are more than just grass and dust, though our lives are just as fragile.

If you are Jewish and you are observant, you already have a siddur and pray the Shema twice a day in accordance with the commandment. If you are Christian, you probably have never even seen a siddur; a Jewish prayer book, and up until today, you may not have even heard of the Shema. If you have the opportunity, just once, find a siddur, open to the portion that contains the Shema, and read it to yourself and perhaps just once, even read it to God. Although we are not Israel, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God by the merit of our Master and King and by His merit, we are commanded to…

…love Hashem, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources. Let these matters that I command you today be upon your heart. Teach them thoroughly to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise.

from the Shema