The Mishkan, or Tabernacle in the wilderness, is a model for each of us who makes a space for Jewish personal prayer. We have no Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and no carefully-constructed portable tent structure. What we have is our own souls housed in our own bodies.
Thinking about ourselves as a dwelling place for prayer, and for individual, personal prayer, can be a comforting thought. There was no siddur at the time of the Mishkan described in Torah; there were priests conducting ritural sacrifices. Now we have a siddur but no priesthood conducting ritual sacrifies.
Now Jews can use a siddur or speak spontaneously aloud to God, and both represent a sacrifice of prayer from their souls, their Jewish prayer Mishkan.
Shifra Chana Hendrie streamed live on Facebook yesterday, taking her participants to several holy sites in the land of Israel. It was an unprecedented accomplishment to have women posted and hosting in the various locations, including the Kotel, or Western Wall in Jerusalem.
This is a screenshot from the live-streamed event. On the left is Shifra Chana Hendrie praying during the event. On the right is a close-up of the Kotel. She took us all there, wherever we were watching on our computers, tablets and phones, all over the world. We were there at The Wall together, and we were praying together.
For centuries, Jews have prayed for the Messiah to come. Today, we can study scripture 24/7 and find thousands of opinions about the who, what, when and how of the Jewish Messiah on the web. But what really matters is what's going on in our own hearts with our Creator.
My personal thanks to Shifra Chana Hendrie for being the first person in my life to pray with me at the Kotel. Yes, I will always love her for that. Thank you, Shifra for taking us all to The Wall and praying with us there.
Maturing in my Solitary Splendor and growth of my soul isn't always obvious. But today I noticed something as I spent hours searching through 20 pages of listings on Amazon for various editions of siddurs, or Jewish prayer books.
How many other people are looking through all the Amazon listings and beginning to wonder, as I am, "Look at all the different authors and unique versions of the daily Jewish prayer book, each with its own agenda. I wonder which siddur is best for me to use now?"
Jews, and those exploring Judaism without a family or congregational bias toward a certain level of observance or religious tradition may find the process of selecting a siddur for personal use very confusing. I am certainly finding it confusing right now, but my intrepid search continues.
As Seth Godin posted today, "The only way to learn from experience is to have different experiences... to eagerly engage with with the possible."
Two of my siddurs are pictured above. Both are Avodat Israel siddurs, the left one published in 1960 and the right one in 1969. I bought them many years ago and do not use them regularly because the text is very small print.
I read through the comments on various Amazon listings today and saw people saying, "I collect siddurs," and then giving their opinion on the particular siddur listed. It struck me that my goal is not to be a collector of siddurs, although it's a wonderful hobby. I want my relationship with a siddur to be more like my truck or my garden spade, tools for my daily life.
These thoughts are giving me a signal of some new maturity in my relationship with God. Wanting to be free of the writers' and translator's agendas shows me something important - my Jewish heart longs for the personal connection with God in traditional prayers. I want a siddur to help me do that each day, even more than it connects me to centuries of Jewish tradition and modern political perspectives.
I posted this comment in a Jewish group on Facebook this morning, and it inspired me to more thought and writing. Honestly, I never thought about the annual cycles as a roller coaster until I watched myself typing these words today.
The notion of Torah portions of the five books of Torah representing a journey of the soul is not a new idea. Joel Padowitz writes the following sentence in his post called "The Good Side of Fear," on Aish.com - "Yirah really means some combination of thrill, awe, and fear."
Yirah is a wonderful Hebrew word which is usually translated into English as "fear of God." That phrase doesn't begin to convey the depth of meaning of Yirah. Tara Mohr posted about three Hebrew words meaning fear, saying, "You’ll know yirah because it has a tinge of exhilaration and awe..."
That sounds like a roller coaster to me!
There's a lot of talk and teaching about "Jewish roots." That phrase has a lot of different meanings, and I've noticed people tend to get involved in groups that share a common or at least a similar meaning as their own.
I really like this article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman called, "I Just Discovered I'm Jewish." He wrote it from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, but it's very generous and welcoming for anyone who is wondering - what and who is a Jew anyway?
The article is good, but there are 117 comments (as of today) that are at least as interesting as what Rabbi Freeman posted. This comment makes an excellent point to anybody who has discovered they have Jewish roots from a DNA test:
"Genetic Jewish ancestry doesn't necessarily mean that one is Jewish or not Jewish, but it does mean that one is genetically descened from Jewish ancestors in a way that is irrefutable and incontrovertible."
Personally, I'd suggest pairing that comment with these words Rabbi Freeman wrote in his article, describing a Jewish person, "... a light in the darkness that cannot be extinguished by the most incessant and formidable waves of change, because we are tied in an enexorable bond to our divine mission."
Solitary Splendor is my way of expressing my own light in the darkness. That's really how it feels to me. It's been years and years so far, preparing to write this book, so I am surely tied to my divine mission the way Rabbi Freeman describes it.
Ancestry.com posted the following video of a professional couple who specialize in Jewish geneaology:
Getting and staying connected to God is important to me. I've been interviewing other people on the topic of Jewish personal prayer, and I'm learning that a belief in God and a desire for connection to God are simply not important to some Jews.
Honestly, it comes as a surprise to me. The intensity of my desire, persistence and tenacity to know my Creator makes it hard to understand having no interest at all in knowing and connecting with God. Learning from the people I'm interviewing is very instructive, and it's a truly sobering experience.
In a 2011 article in Moment Magazine, well-known Jewish thinkers were asked, "Can there be Judaism without belief in God?" Their responses are fascinating, and range from No to Maybe to Yes, in much more articulate terms.
Solitary Splendor is about not only believing in God, but longing for connection to God at all times.
"Every moment there is an opportunity to bring the yearning of our hearts and the deeds of our hands to Hashem, the Creator." That's a quote from David Mark, from his post called Building The Temple Within on Breslov.org.
Traditional Jewish prayers waft up to heaven on a set schedule, using well-established words and rituals. It is understood that these prayers were put in place as a substitute, so to speak, for the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed in 70 CE (AD) and there was no way to fulfill the exact sacrifices specified in Torah.
God is in charge of the Holy Temple and God is in charge of us, the people living on the Earth with only the Western Wall remaining from the last Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We can pray the traditional daily prayers and we can pray from the yearning of our hearts at all times. We are not limited in our prayers at all.
Watch Jews from all over the world visiting the Western Wall by visiting The Western Wall Webcam. Day or night, you are welcome at The Wall!
In this video, Rabbi Lazer Brody explains about Jewish personal prayer as Hitbodedut, which is the same word as Hisbodedus, as spoken by Jews from different parts of the world. Gotta love a rabbi who rides his horse out into nature, to "his office," to speak out loud to God, and to connect his soul with its Creator!
Even though there's not much online about Jewish personal prayer, far more can be found if the Hebrew word "hitbodedut" is searched instead. The Hebrew meaning is "self seclusion." It doesn't really mean private prayer, but it has come to represent private, personal prayer in one's own language and sincere words.
Some people are intimidated by the use of unfamiliar words, including Hebrew words. So, that's why I say Jewish personal prayer when I describe my experiences with hitbodedut.
Getting out in nature is ideal, but often impossible in our busy lives. Speaking out loud to our Almighty God is what's important, not necessarily where it happens. With one exception...
I know some people may flinch at what I am going to say next, but I know how hard it can be to find a place and a moment to be alone. Unless you are completely desperate, do not choose a bathroom in your home or a restroom in a public place. If you are hiding out for your personal safety, that is a different situation, but if you are merely doing it for your own convenience, just don't do it.
Find a place where you can pray safely and respectfully out loud to God. Wherever you do that, it's hitbodedut, and it's good!
This week it hit me - there's not much on the web or on bookshelves in bookstores about Jewish personal prayer. I began to wonder why that is... And my wondering led me to interviewing Jewish leaders in various streams, and to writing about Jewish personal prayer on the web. Yes! It's a wonderful, custom-made task for me.
The interviews are proving to be very fascinating, as are discussions in Facebook groups. I wrote the following comment to someone's question about what prayer book to get, posted in a Jewish group -
These are all excellent suggestions for getting started in Jewish prayer. I have one more humble suggestion involving Jewish personal prayer. Ask Hashem for guidance regarding the many resources available to you on Jewish prayer. Write out your prayers to Hashem and/or speak them out loud. I am amazed at the clarity with which Jewish personal prayer opens up options for me, and equally important, closes doors that are open but not necessarily useful to me at this time.
My Jewish personal prayer adventures are growing in depth and breadth!
Here's a fascinating video about the spiritual consequences of eating three meals on Shabbat with intention. The three meals are: Friday night, Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon/evening, prior to sunset and havdallah.
The traditional blessings said over our meals is one way of connecting with Hashem before we eat, which is something we generally understand. The idea that sitting down to the meals is, in itself, a powerful connection with deep spiritual meaning is not as well-known or understood.
Rebbe Nachman's teachings on the consequences of our willingness to sit down and eat with intention three times on Shabbat are life-changing. We are not eating merely to nourish our body, but also, to save our souls. Yes, it is a powerful teaching I plan to remember. Shabbat Shalom!
I am exploring what others have to say about personal prayer, the foundation of Solitary Splendor because it's what I can do completely on my own. In fact, it's best when I'm on my own, with nobody else to say how to pray or what to pray. It's just between God and me.
Chris Harrison is a convert to Judaism with a great attitude about Jewish personal prayer, called hitbodedut, which means self isolation, because it involves isolating yourself to talk to God.
My favorite advice Harrison gives in his ReformJudaism.org post is, "Just open your mouth and let the words flow. Disburse your needs, frustrations, and desires to the cosmos unencumbered by the judgment of others." Isn't that beautiful? Jewish personal prayer is my favorite thing to do, and I love the way he describes it!
This year I am learning about Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees. Although it's not a "big" Jewish holiday, familiar and celebrated by all, it's full of deep, spiritual meaning. In other words, although we might learn about and eat the Seven Species specified in Deuteronomy 8:8, there's also a deeper connection to the two trees in Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge.
I'm looking forward to sharing from Bilvavi: Depth of Eating the Seven Species at our Tu B'Shevat seder tonight, especially these words, "... we can find the design of the entire Creation in a tree."
And today is also the yartzeit of one of my most trusted teachers, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, may his memory be a blessing to us all. In his 48 years of life in this world, Rabbi Kaplan left a legacy of wisdom and patient love that lingers in his many books. He never leaves me feeling inadequate, no matter how deep the subject he explores. Rabbi Kaplan brings us right along with him in his accessible writings on Jewish mysticism, such a wonderful gift from a former street kid from the Bronx. (artwork - The Poets Garden by Vincent Van Gogh - artic.com Public Domain)
I love Frumma Gottleib, Torah teacher with Chabad and SoulSculptors.com. Here is her video teaching about sanctifying time, which she calls "How to Make Time: Jewish Time Management."
She begins with Rosh Chodesh, part of the first commandment God gave to the Israelites prior to their exodus from Egypt. This is where Jewish time management began.
As Jews, our responsibility is to respect time and to respect ourselves by paying attention to the importance our own time. Frumma says, "G-d created time and we can create time, When something is important we don't say, 'I'm sorry, I have no time,' we make time."
Making time for the important things is what makes us G-dly. We rarely see it this way of course, and that's what makes Frumma's words so precious to me. My Creator makes time and I, too, am charged with the responsibility to make time. Rushing around and trying to do too many things at once is not respectful to G-d or to me. Or to others.
Frumma reminds me that my responsibility is to be a co-creator with G-d in this matter of making time, not a slave to harried, multi-tasking craziness. This is truly a mind shift for me on the topic of sanctifying time.
The commandment to love our God, as Torah specifies in Deuteronomy 6:5 "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might," is easier said than done. Even though it's the core of the Shema, the foundational declaration of a Jew, it's always been controversial.
Most of us don't want to be commanded to love anybody, including God. We want the precious, deep feeling we call love to arise naturally within us. We want to love with genuine, spontaneous emotion or not have the obligation to love at all. This goes for loving other humans, too. We want the opportunity to choose to love them or not.
Religious leaders and teachers tell us to love God anyway, to love other humans anyway, no matter how we may feel in a particular moment or as a lifestyle. Since I'm not a religious leader or teacher, I don't offer the same advice.
I ask God for the ability to love instead. If I don't feel love naturally, I pray for it, including the ability to love God. It might seem strange to ask God for the ability to love God, but it's been effective for me. And, as a surprising bonus, praying for the ability to love God has given me a bit more patience and capacity to love other human beings. That's truly a blessing I didn't anticipate. Shabbat Shalom!
This funny ah-ha moment turned out to be very instructive to me. I need mental pictures to learn, and this question created a great picture in my mind. Thinking about it since that day, I began to wonder if the space we allocate to gratitude is the same space available for blessings. Meaning, it's not our emptiness but the quantity and quality of our gratitude that gives us the ability to receive. More contemplation on this topic to follow!
Choosing to live "soul first," is a consious choice. It can be costly in this world of people living "body first." Choosing to consider and (hopefully) prioritize my eternal, invisible soul puts me in a miniscule minority in every local and family social situation.
The way I understand the Bible, this is what we're supposed to do, or at least experiment with doing it whenever we remember. The fact that most of the people living in my part of the United States think that talking out loud to God is a sign of mental illness will not stop me. It cannot impair my intention to grow in soul-first living, or to continue to share with anyone who is also choosing to experiment with soul-first living.
For me, the first step is to gain soul-first understanding, possibly my primary task in this life. This week's Parsha Bo is about redemption, so that's why I'm contemplating redemption from automatic body-first thinking and acting. Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz says, "Parsha Bo is about how each of us can cope with our own Egypt, any situation in our lives which is strangling us or holding us back."
Clean, empty containers bring me a lot of pleasure. Especially empty glass jars, lined up on my kitchen shelves, waiting to be filled with freshly-prepared sauce or salad dressing. Thinking about my words of prayer as precious little teacups, much more delicate yet serviceable containers, also brings me pleasure.
Every word of prayer is a container, ready and waiting for me to receive from God. The expression of my heart and soul is an invitation and a signal that I am seated at the dining table awaiting.
God is not my waiter or server, of course. I am the servant in our relationship, but the picture of my willingness to receive is what I'm describing. It is a decent, respectful, civilized attitude of expectation that The Almighty God knows I am present and willing to receive.
We know that a judge and jury find a pre-mediatated crime to be far more serious than an accidental crime. The contemplation in preparation of a criminal act deepens its significance, and it becomes a part of a person's character.
Premeditated prayer works like that, only in a good way! Thinking about praying, planning for it, looking forward to it before the prayer occurs. The contemplation in preparation for prayer deepens the significance of our prayers and makes them part of our character.
Year after year, going through the cycle of Torah reading, I see more of myself in the antics of the characters populating famous Bible stories. And, year after year, I endeavor to go a little bit deeper and learn a little bit more about myself from reading and praying about the weekly Torah portion, especially as regards my current life challenges.
Reading Torah is a spiritual practice unto itself, but seeing myself in Torah makes that practice much more personal. Praying for personal insights on issues that are "up" for me as read the weekly Parsha makes Torah interactive, interesting and even exciting. I like that.
This week's Parsha Vaeira includes God instructing Moshe to tell Pharoah, "Let My people leave and let them worship me in the desert." Exodus 7:16 (The Living Torah)
These words give me pause to think. First, It wasn't simply, "Let My people go," as we often remember the incident. It includes God's purpose for the Jews' redemption from slavery, which is worship. And it includes the place where Jews will worship - in the desert.
I am exercising my right to worship my God on my own, right where I live, which is a Jewish desert. The land is not a desert, but the spiritual landscape is devoid of Jews. It's not a desert of plant growth, but certainly of Jewish growth. That's a plain fact here in far north Texas.
What a great example of seeing my current life challenges in the weekly Torah portion! Shabbat Shalom!
Talking to God about my concerns is 'way more productive than talking to most human beings. The reality is, most people cannot filter out their own self-interest while listening to others, except professionals trained to listen. Talking to God has a genuine focus on my own self-interest from God's vantage point. That's what I ask for in prayer and what I often get as a result. That puts my thoughts, feelings, plans and purposes in the best light possible for me... The light of God!
Listening to podcasts about Parsha Shemot this week I am letting this reality sink in deeply. Adversity has been a big part of my personal growth. I'm not saying, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," not exactly. Because Torah stories about overcoming adversity are not really about people becoming stronger, but instead, they are about God becoming stronger, more welcome and involved in people's lives. That's the strength I desire to cultivate from adversity - acknowledging and welcoming God's plans and purposes for me in this life, having faith and confidence in my ability to overcome adversity through my connection to God.
Over the years I wrote blog posts and copy for others, I followed and studied with successful copywriters. They have to know how people think in order to write copy that motivates sales. John Carlton certainly knows how people think, and he shared these words in an email today, "Remember who you are and what you've survived... and WHY you're here in the first place. You have a purpose. It will sometimes shimmer just out of easy reach... and it will sometimes flash in your face, like a flashbulb." Oh, how I LOVE those words of truth! I bring who I am and what I've survived into every prayer, everyday.
Some powerful words from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat inspired my thinking about being there for others who are struggling. She wrote, "God's Presence is with those who are ill, whether they are aware of it or not. When we visit those who are sick, we enter into the divine Presence. The sickbed is a sacred space." What a counterintuitive thought. It's lofty yet practical, and most of us have plenty of opportunities to practice it every week - trusting that God is there for the struggling person, no matter what.
The idea of prayer as conception is new to me lately. I had to outgrow the idea of prayer as incantation or affirmation of my goals, which was a time-consuming process that continues today. I am the person who is speaking out in prayer to God, but I am not really the one in charge. God is in charge, just as God is in charge of all conception, gestation and birth. Surrendering the conception, gestation and birth of the answers to my prayers is not easy because it feels like giving up my own children. I am a pathway for my prayers, but I don't own them.