I wanted to let my previous article percolate over Shabbat, settle in the heart.
At first glance, pre-Shabbat is a strange time to send out that message since the Shabbat Amida doesn’t contain the שמע קולנו (hear our voices) prayer at all. But that, actually, gives us a hint to open our exploration of the deeper experience of prayer.
We don’t ask for anything on Shabbat because we try to live and experience a consciousness of completion and perfection. Shabbat is a weekly unveiling of the deepest reality into our finite lives. The Ramchal writes, after warning us that we really can’t fully grasp any concept of God at all, that one of the very few facts we can rely on is that “God is perfect/complete in every conceivable manner of perfection/completeness and that the very concept of lack or deficiency makes no sense at all in regards to Him.” Or, as I like to say, the only thing that God lacks is lack.
The other part of our reality, however, is the finite, the world in which we dwell, the lives which we live. We are, by our very natures, incomplete. We daily require food and water, every moment we require an infusion of fresh air. We are driven mainly by desire.
Desire isn’t a bad thing, it’s just the nature of being human. Just as we can desire wealth and comfort and fame, we can also desire justice and truth and closeness with the Almighty.
Returning to the two sections of the Amida, שמע קולנו (hear our prayers) reflects the material side of our being. But our spiritual side, our נשמה, is, literally, a fragment of the Infinite Divine that forms our essence which is only clothed by our physical bodies. Like the Infinite Divine itself, it is perfect and complete, needing nothing. When we say מודין אנחנו לך (we thank You), we balance our needy physical with our potentially, at least, perfect spiritual.
These two prayers are very close to one another in the Amida, separated only by the final request, to return the שכינה, the feminine divine to ציון, to Zion, the center of our focus in the physical realm. Perhaps through this medium we’re able to learn to alternate our awareness between those two sides of ourselves, the needing, wanting, finite and the already filled and complete infinite. On Shabbat we have to potential, at least temporarily, to focus entirely on our highest, spiritual selves. If nothing else, it can recharge us for the return to the week, perhaps even remind us of our eventual goal.
Tefilla, prayer, needn’t be an empty ritual, an arbitrary obligation, a quaint artifact from a less-sophisticated period in our development. It doesn’t need to be replaced with a more “user-friendly” substitute. It merely has to be experienced with an open heart, studied with an open mind. Not only to each generation, but to each individual at each moment, the Torah unveils a methodology, a technique, to take that next step towards reaching our potential. Prayer, like the other mitzvot, commandments, is not there to close off our thinking and feeling, to arbitrarily regiment our behavior. Rather, הלכה, Jewish Law, is a הליכה, a path, a walking, designed to continuously open us.
Finally, perhaps our best strategy is to return to simple expression, simple actions. Rather than intellectually contemplating the very nature of the finite and the infinite, let’s at least try to balance our שמע קולינו consciousness with our מודים אנחנו לך.