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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

iPods and why our prayers aren't answered

By Rabbi Dov Fischer





A meditation on communicating with the Divine for those in the hear and now

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | From time to time, the questions are asked of rabbis: "Does G-d hear my prayers? If He does, why does He seemingly let me down? And how much use can there be from praying an ancient prayer formula, written by someone else, in a language I don't understand too well, recited almost by rote?"

Before we can answer the questions, perhaps we first need to reexamine their premises. Prayer — at least in Judaism — is not primarily about coming to Santa or Savta (Grandma) with a wish list, but about stepping shyly and modestly before our Creator with humility, gratitude for the past, and a commitment to self-betterment. That is, prayer is self-instruction: it teaches us not only who we should strive to be but what we should be and what needs and wants deserve to be prioritized.

The Hebrew word for praying is "l'hispallel." Many observe that, as the word is conjugated, it connotes self-examination and self-judgment.

Under the common secular conception prevalent in Western society, we think to pray when we want to ask for things — a car, an iPod, a Smartphone, another Yankees pennant, money. But the Jewish conception differs: our Sages of 2500 years ago, the Men of the Great Assembly who composed our central prayers, instead directed me in their wisdom to pray for wisdom, understanding, and knowledge; for repentance for me and for my people, forgiveness for my sins, for the redemption of Israel, the restoration of honest and good judges, for the ingathering of my people.

So when do we get to my iPod?

As a rabbi, I do a great deal of teaching about Tefilah (Prayer), lots of learning with my adult students the Mishneh B'rurah commentary on the laws of daily Jewish life, and lots of looking at the translated meanings of the words in our Siddur (prayer book). It rapidly emerges that organized prayer addresses less about what we want to pray for and more about what Chazal (Our Sages) teach us that we should want to pray for. The very idea that I want my iPod for me, while Chazal have me praying for a good season in plural for all, is very powerful. I am not only praying for the health of the person in my mind but also for the health of all these other people I barely know. And, while I am focused on political leaders or specific locations I may find myself in, the Siddur reminds me that my real focus needs to be on His return to Jerusalem, the coming of Messiah, and the day when He will accept the spiritual and religious offerings of the returned Jewish People in Zion.

But when do we get to my Smartphone?

Prayer also teaches me that I need to say "thank you" to my Creator for all the many, many things for which I tend not to be thankful. Just as He led the Jews through the Sinai desert for forty years — yet they needed for Moses to remind them that none of their garments or shoes ever had worn out through those four decades of physical exertion and desert-trekking sweat — so we need to remember the obvious, no less than the miraculous, that G-d has done for us. I urge students to focus during their prayers on a specific something wonderful that happened some morning, something else that happened miraculously during some work day, and yet something more that happened inexplicably some evening.

But those components — gratitude, worthy priorities — are only part of prayer. Before asking for a single thing, we first must remember that we are entering before Him. A person cannot just walk into the Governor's Mansion or the White House. You need an appointment, then identification and credentials to justify your even being there. And so it is with prayer. First I must be absorbed with humility upon seeking to enter the room, the Palace, and introduce myself.

What are my credentials, justifying this appointment? I am a child of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whose merits He remembers and in whose merits I seek to present my petitions with the hope that I may invoke His promise to the Patriarchs to redeem their children. Then, as I would at a job interview or at a meeting with an elected official whose help I am seeking, I first acknowledge and thank Him for all that He already has done — thereby not only manifesting gratitude but, more fundamentally, demonstrating that I am aware of it. That I do not take it for granted. So I am aware that my family and friends continue paying our bills (m'khalkel chaim b'chesed), that so many who have had life-destructive setbacks like me are back and, older-but-wiser, more successful than ever (somekh noflim), that there are people in my universe who have had heart transplants, kidney transplants, amazingly miraculous life-saving surgeries, and — well, in case we have forgotten life from a few decades ago — who ever imagined such a thing possible? (rofeh cholim). I further am aware that a million Russian Jews impossibly are in Israel along with some 30-40,000 Ethiopian Jews and immigrants from Khomeini's Iran and Saddam's Iraq and Assad's Syria (matir asurim). He has freed the incarcerated in my lifetime before my eyes. I have seen it all — all the things that people, far smarter than I ever will be, assured me were impossible (like, "Brezhnev is just going to let a million Jews leave the USSR and make Israel a world leader in technology because you are screaming at him on East 67th Street in Manhattan? What? You think the Soviet Union is just going to fold up? Grow up, get real! Not in this lifetime!")

So prayer is about learning humility, introspection, learning what truly comprises a life priority and what is nonsense, learning that others also have needs — and if you pray for them in the plural, then you get an extra million-plus people praying for you, too — and learning to acknowledge that, even if your request is turned down this time, you have seen and experienced more miracles in the past half century than Jews had seen perhaps in the prior thousand years.

That, too, underscores the importance of davening in Hebrew. Prayer is about Klal (the People), not only Yachid (the Individual). If I go to Paris and enter La Synagogue, I am lost if they are praying in French. But if they daven in Hebrew, then I too can daven alongside the adventurous Rabbi Jacob, and he with me on these shores. So Hebrew prayer saved the language from Celtic-like extinction, forced and forces us to teach it and to learn to read it (in most shuls, we have succeeded so well that most American daveners can read Hebrew six times as fast as any Israeli . . . ), binds all Jews throughout the world even though our dialects and pronunciations differ, and reminds us that prayer is not only about me but about all of us. Even so, because it also is about me and my particular needs, I may pray privately at certain parts even in English, while the public leader recites and chants in Hebrew only.

Prayer is not about me giving strength to my wife, or she to me, but about each of us asking for strength from the Divine. So we sit apart.

When He says "No," He says "No." Sometimes, it emerges that "No" is better than "Yes." Perhaps no one in secular society has put this notion into poetry better than the country singer Garth Brooks in his extraordinary "Sometimes I Thank G0d for Unanswered Prayers." Sometimes, however, we remain unsatisfied with "No." Sometimes "No" may even feel shattering. But He already told us, through His words to Moses in our Torah, that He reserves the authority, for His greater reasons and plans we cannot fathom, to grant grace or mercy upon those whom He chooses to do so, and when He so chooses. And sometimes an occasional "No" that comes on our table can better help us to appreciate and understand our neighbor who receives other versions of "No." Thus, "No" can teach sympathy and compassion for others.

The High Holy Days are around the corner. Even for those who do not regularly attend temple, these are the days when we come to pray. If we enter the House of Prayer with humility, entering the portals as children of the Patriarchs and cognizant of the hungry He has sustained, the fallen He has raised and supported, the sick He has healed, and the imprisoned He has freed, we then can begin to examine ourselves before Him and to assess whether we have earned the right to petition. Following the formula for prayer, we further examine our own priorities, realizing that wisdom, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, justice, the ingathering of the Exiles, Jerusalem's rebuilding, and the return of the House of David are the priorities that should guide a Jew's aspirations, as he seeks forgiveness for past failings and hope and inspiration for the future.

And we learn, through this self-examination, that we can reach Him without a Smartphone, without an iPod, reciting from an ancient language that is as contemporary and vibrant as today's headlines.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dov Fischer is an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and serves as the rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County.


Previously:


To be alone

Give Your Rabbi a Break






© 2010, Rabbi Dov Fischer