“The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel (1953)

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It is with a sense of great responsibility that I undertake to discuss with you such a sacred topic, a topic which is called one of the most sublime things in the world, דְּבָרִים הָעוֹמְדִים בְּרוּמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם‏.‎[1]Berakhot 6b.22

I am going to discuss not only the spirit of Jewish prayer but also the state of prayer in the present day synagogue. The time has come for a חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ‏‏.‎[2]Cf. Jerusalem Talmud Bava Metsia 27a.1; Bava Kamma 116b.3-4 נַחְפְּשָׂה דְרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקֹרָה וְנָשׁוּבָה עַד־ה׳‏‏‏.‎[3]Lamentations 3:40, Berakhot 5a.9 To find a cure we must have the courage to study the ills.

In advancing some critical remarks I do not mean חַס וְשָׁלוֹם‏‏ to take a superior attitude. In all honesty, my criticism will be to a considerable degree self-criticism. I am conscious of the great work which members of this Assembly are doing, and it is with respect and affection that I address my remarks to this audience.

Moreover, numerous conversations with some of my own former students assembled here tonight give me the right to feel that I am not going to speak to you but for you. I am going to be, in a sense your שְׁלִיחַ צִבּוּר‏.

הִנְנִי הֶעָנִי מִמַּעַשׂ נִרְעַשׁ וְנִפְחַד מִפַּחַד יוֹשֵׁב תְּהִלּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל‏. I speak to you on prayer, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינִי כְּדַאי‏[4]Musaf Service for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur וְחַנּוּן לְכָךְ, אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ׃‏‏.‎[5]Psalms 51:17

I

Our services are conducted with pomp and precision. The rendition of the liturgy is smooth. Everything is present: decorum, voice, ceremony. But one thing is missing: Life. One knows in advance what will ensue. There will be no surprise, no adventure of the soul; there will be no sudden burst of devotion. Nothing is going to happen to the soul. Nothing unpredictable must happen to the person who prays. He will attain no insight into the words he reads; he will attain no new perspective for the life he lives. Our motto is monotony. מַה־שֶּׁהָיָה הוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה וְאֵין כָּל־חָדָשׁ בְּבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת‏‏.‎[6]Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9 The fire has gone out of our worship. It is cold, stiff, and dead. Inorganic Judaism. True, things are happening; of course, not within prayer, but within the administration of the synagogues. Do we not establish new edifices all over the country?

Yes, the edifices are growing. Yet, worship is decaying.

Has the synagogue become the graveyard where prayer is buried? Are we, the spiritual leaders of American Jewry, members of a חֶבְרָה קַדִּישָׁא‏? There are many who labor in the vineyard of oratory; but who knows how to pray, or how to inspire others to pray? There are many who can execute and display magnificent fireworks; but who knows how to kindle a spark in the darkness of a soul?

Some of you may say, I am going too far! Of course, people still attend “services” — but what does this attendance mean to them? Outpouring of the soul, הִשְׁתַּפְּכוֹת הַנֶּפֶשׁ‏? Worship? Prayer, synagogue attendance has become a benefaction to the synagogue, a service of the community rather than service of God, עֲבוֹדַת צִבּוּר‏ rather than עֲבוֹדַת הַשֵּׁם‏. People give some of their money to UJA, and some of their time to the synagogue.

The modern synagogue suffers from a severe cold. Our congregants preserve a respectful distance between the סִדּוּר‏ and themselves. They say the words, “Forgive us for we have sinned,” but of course, they are not meant. They say, “Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart…” in lofty detachment, in complete anonymity as if giving an impartial opinion about an irrelevant question.

An air of tranquility, complacency prevails in our synagogues. What can come out of such an atmosphere? The services are prim, the voice is dry, the synagogue is clean and tidy, and the soul of prayer lies in agony. You know no one will scream, no one will cry, the words will be still-born.

People expect the rabbi to conduct a service: an efficient, expert service. But efficiency and rapidity are no remedy against devotional sterility. Orthodox rabbis worry about the בִּימָה‏ being in the right place. What about the heart being in the right place? What about prayer?

We have developed the habit of praying by proxy. Many congregants seem to have adopted the principle of vicarious prayer. The rabbi or the cantor does the praying for the congregation. In particular, it is the organ that does the singing for the whole community. Too often the organ has become the שְׁלִיחַ צִבּוּר‏. Indeed, when the organ begins to thunder, who can compete with its songs? Men and women are not allowed to raise their voices, unless the rabbi issues the signal. They have come to regard the rabbi as a master of ceremonies.

Is not their mood, in part, a reflection of our own uncertainties? Prayer has become an empty gesture, a figure of speech. Either because of lack of faith or because of religious bashfulness. We would not admit that we take prayer seriously. It would sound sanctimonious, if not hypocritical. We are too sophisticated. But if prayer is as important as study, if prayer is as precious a deed as an act of charity, we must stop being embarrassed at our saying a בְּרָכָה‏ with כַּוָּנָה‏.

Ours is a great responsibility. We demand that people come to the synagogue instead of playing golf, or making money, or going on a picnic. Why? Don’t we mislead them? People take their precious time off to attend services. Some even arrive with profound expectations. But what do they get? What do they receive? Sometimes the rabbi even sits in his chair, wondering: Why did all these people flock together? Spiritually helpless, the rabbi sits in his chair taking attendance.

There is another privation: the loss of חֵן‏, Our prayers have so little charm, so little grace, so little חֵן‏. What is חֵן‏? The presence of the soul. A person has חֵן‏ when the throbbing of his heart is audible in his voice; when the longings of his soul animate his face. Now, how do our people pray? They recite the prayerbook as if it were last week’s newspaper. They ensconce in anonymity — as if prayer were an impersonal exercise — as if worship were an act that came automatically. The words are there but the souls who are to feel their meaning, to absorb their significance, are absent. They utter shells of syllables, but put nothing of themselves into the shells. In our daily speech, in uttering a sentence, our words have a tonal quality. There is no communication without intonation. It is the intonation that indicates what we mean by what we say, so that we can discern whether we hear a question or an assertion.

It is the intonation that lends חֵן‏ to what we say. But when we pray, the words faint on our lips. Our words have no tone, no strength, no personal dimension, as if we did not mean what we said; as if reading paragraphs in Roget’s Thesaurus.

It is prayer without חֵן‏. Of course, we offer them plenty of responsive reading, but there is little responsiveness to what they read. No one knows how to shed a tear. No one is ready to invest a sigh. Is there no tear in their souls?

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is not the health
Of the daughter of my people recovered?[7]Jeremiah 8:22

Assembled in the synagogue everything is there — the body, the benches, the books. But one thing is absent: נְשָׁמָה‏. It is as if they all suffered from spiritual absenteeism. In good prayer, words become one with the soul. Yet in our synagogues, people who are otherwise sensitive, vibrant, arresting, sit there aloof, listless, lazy. לֹא הַמֵּתִים יְהַלְלוּ יָהּ‏,‎[8]Psalms 115:17 Those who are spiritually dull cannot praise the Lord.

That we sensed that this is a problem is evidenced by the many valiant but futile attempts to deal with it. The problem, namely, of how to increase synagogue attendance. A variety of suggestions have been made, e.g., to bring the סִדּוּר‏ up to date by composing shorter and better prayers; to invite distinguished speakers, radio-commentators and columnists, to arrange congregational forums, panels and symposia; to celebrate annual projects such as “Jewish Culture Sabbath,” “Jewish War Veterans Sabbath,” “Boy Scouts Sabbath,” “Interfaith Sabbath” (why not a “Sabbath Sabbath”?); to install stained glass windows; to place gold, silver or blue pledge-cards on the seats; to remind people of their birthday dates. Well-intentioned as these suggestions may be, they do not deal with the core of the issue. Spiritual problems cannot be solved by administrative techniques.

The problem is not how to fill the buildings but how to inspire the hearts. And this is a problem to which techniques of child psychology can hardly be applied. The problem is not one of synagogue attendance but one of spiritual attendance. The problem is not how to attract bodies to enter the space of a temple but how to inspire souls to enter an hour of spiritual concentration in the presence of God. The problem is time, not space.

II

Prayer is an extremely embarrassing phenomenon. Numerous attempts have been made to define and to explain it. I will briefly mention four of the prevalent doctrines.

(1) The Doctrine of Agnosticism.

The doctrine of Agnosticism claims that prayer is rooted in superstition. It is “one of humanity’s greatest mistakes” “a desparate effort of bewildered creatures to come to terms with surrounding mystery.” Thus, prayer is a fraud. To the worshipping man we must say: “Fool, why do you in vain beseech with childish prayers, things which no day ever did bring, will bring, or could bring?”[9]Ovid, Tristia, III, 8.11. Since it is dangerous fraud, the synagogue must be abolished. A vast number of people have, indeed, eliminated prayer from their lives. They made an end to that illusion.

There are some people who believe that the only way to revitalize the synagogue is to minimize the importance of prayer and to convert the synagogue into a center. It is something which the Talmud characterizes as עַל שֶׁקּוֹרִין לַאֲרוֹן הַקֹּדֶשׁ ‘אַרְנָא’. וְעַל שֶׁקּוֹרִין לְבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת ‘בֵּית־עַם’‏‏‏.‎[10]Shabbat 32a.9

Let us face the situation. This is the law of life. Just as man cannot live without a soul, Judaism cannot survive without God. Our soul withers without prayer. A synagogue in which men no longer aspire to prayer is not a compromise but a defeat; a perversion, not a concession. To pray with כַּוָּנָה‏ may be difficult; to pray without it is ludicrous.

(2) The Doctrine of Religious Behaviorism.

There are people who seem to believe that religious deeds can be performed in a spiritual wasteland, in the absence of the soul, with a heart hermetically sealed; that external action is the essential mode of worship, pedantry the same as piety; as if all that mattered is how men behaved in physical terras; as if religion were not concerned with the inner life.

Such a conception, which we would like to call religious behaviorism, unwittingly reduces Judaism to a sort of sacred physics, with no sense for the imponderable, the introspective, the metaphysical.

As a personal attitude religious behaviorism usually reflects a widely held theology in which the supreme article of faith is respect for tradition. People are urged to observe the rituals or to attend services out of deference to what has come down to us from our ancestors. The theology of respect pleads for the maintenance of the inherited and transmitted customs and institutions and is characterized by a spirit of conformity, excessive moderation and disrespect of spontaneity. The outlook of religious behaviorists comes close to the view embodied in Seneca’s saying, tamquam legibus iussa non tamquam dis grata (observe religious customs because they are commanded by law, not because they are desired by the gods).

Wise, important, essential and pedagogically useful as the principle “respect for tradition” is, it is grotesque and self-defeating to make of it the supreme article of faith.

Religious behaviorism is a doctrine that dominates many minds, and is to a large measure responsible for the crisis of prayer.

(3) The Doctrine of Prayer as a Social Act

There is another definition which is being perpetuated all over the country in sermons, synagogue bulletins and books. “Prayer is the identification of the worshipper with the people of Israel,” or “the occasion for immersing ourselves in the living reality” of our people. It is built on a theology which regards God as a symbol of social action, as an epitome of the ideals of the group, as “the spirit of the beloved community”;[11]J. Royce, The Problem of Christianity, 1913, 1, pp. 172, 408f. as “the spirit of a people, and insofar as there is a world of humanity…the Spirit of the World”;[12]E. S. Ames, Religion, New York, 1929, p. 132. as the “Creative Good Will” which makes cooperation in our moral endeavor possible.[13]E. W. Lyman, The Meaning of Truth in Religion, p, 33.

“An act of identification with the people” is, phenomenologically speaking, the definition of a political act. But is a political phenomenon the same as worship? Moreover, is the act of identification with the Jewish people necessarily an act of serving God? Who is our model: Elijah who disassociated himself from the congregations of his people, or the prophets of the Baal who led and identified themselves with their people? The prophets of Israel were not eager to be in agreement with popular sentiments. Spiritually important, essential, and sacred as the identification with the people Israel is, we must not forget that what lends spiritual importance and sanctity to that identification is Israel’s unique association with the will of God. It is this association that raises our attachment to the people Israel above the level of mere nationalism.

The doctrine of prayer as a social act is the product of what may be called “the sociological fallacy,” according to which the individual has no reality except as a carrier of ideas and attitudes that are derived from group existence. Applied to Jewish faith, it is a total misunderstanding of the nature of Jewish faith to overemphasize the social or communal aspect.

It is true that a Jew never worships as an isolated individual but as a part of the people Israel. Yet it is within the heart of every individual that prayer takes place. It is a personal duty, and an intimate act which cannot be delegated to either the cantor or to the whole community. We pray with all of Israel, and everyone of us by himself. Contrary to sociological theories, individual prayer came first, while collective prayer is a late phenomenon which is not even mentioned in the Bible.[14]”מזמן משה רבינו ע״ה עד כנסת הגדולה…לא היו מתקבצים ישראל בכל מקומות מושבותם ערב ובקר וצהרים במקום מיוחד להתפלל בו תפלת צבור, אלא כל אחד היה מתפלל ביחיד במקום שיודמן לו. כי לא מצאנו בנביאים וכתובים תפלת צבור עד אחד החרבן שתקנו אנשי כנסת הגדולה י״ח בְּרַכוֹת ודברים שבקדושה שאינן בפחות מעשרה”, ר׳ משה בר׳ יוסף מטראני, בית אלהים, ויניציאה של״ו.

Such sociological perspectives forfeit the unique aspects of Judaism. Do we, in the moment of prayer, concentrate on the group? We read in the Psalms “Give ear to my words, O Lord, understand my meditation.” According to the Midrash, David said, “Lord of the World, at the time when I have strength to stand before Thee in prayer and to bring forth words — give ear! At a time when I have no strength to bring forth words — understand what is in my heart, understand my faltering.”[15]”אֲמָרַי הַאֲזִינָה ה׳ בִּינָה הֲגִיגִי (תהלים ה:ב) אמר דוד לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא: רבונו של עולם, בשעה שיש לי כח לעמוד לפניך בתפלה ולהוציא אמרי האזינה. ובשעה שאין בי כח התבונן מה בלבי בינה הגיגי.” מדרש תהלים ה:ד. Can the sociological definition of prayer as an act of identification with the group be applied to this Midrash?

(4) The Doctrine of Religious Solipsism.

The doctrine maintains that the individual self of the worshipper is the whole sphere of prayer-life. The assumption is that God is an idea, a process, a source, a fountain, a spring, a power. But one cannot pray to an idea, one cannot address his prayers to a fountain of values. To whom, then, do we direct our prayers? Yes, there is an answer. As a recent writer put it: We address “prayers to the good within ourselves.”[16]A discussion of this view, which is so popular today, is found in I. Segond, La prière, étude de psychologie religieuse, Paris, 1911, p. 52.

I do not wish to minimize the fact that we all suffer from an ego-centric predicament. Our soul tends to confine itself to its own ideas, interests, and emotions. But why should we raise the ego-centric affliction to the status of a virtue? It is precisely the function of prayer to overcome that predicament, to see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender.[17]Cf. A.J. Heschel, “Prayer” in Review of Religion, January 1945, p. 156.

Religious solipsism claims that we must continue to recite our prayers, for prayer is a useful activity. The ideas may be false; it is absurd to believe that God “hearkens to prayers and supplications” (שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִלּוֹת וְתַחֲנוּנִים‏), but we should say all this because it is good for one’s health. It is a useful fiction, therapeutics by a lie. There is no God who hears our prayers but we pray as if….

Is it really good for one’s health? I think it is old-fashioned and short-sighted psychology to assume that duplicity, אֶחָד בַּפֶּה וְאֶחָד בַּלֵּב‏,‎[18]Midrash Tehillim 12:1 and 14:3; also Pesachim 113b.2, Bava Metzia 49a.6, Midrash Mishlei et al could be good for one’s health.

We are descendants of those who taught the world what true worship is. Our fathers created the only universal language there is: the language of prayer. All men in the Western world speak to God in the language of our prayers, of our Psalms. Is it not proper to ask our fathers: What is the spirit of Jewish prayer? But are we ready to ask the question? Are we qualified to understand the answer? The difficulty of our situation lies in the fact that we have inherited physical features of our fathers but failed to acquire some of their spiritual qualities. Biologically we are Jews, theologically we are pagan to a considerable degree. Our hands are the hands of Jacob, but our voice is often the voice of Esau.

There are bitter problems which religion has to solve: agony, sin, despair. There is darkness in the world. There is horror in the soul. What has the community of Israel to say to the world?

Gentlemen, we worry a great deal about the problem of church and state, synagogue and state. Now what about the synagogue and God? In fact, sometimes there is a greater separation between the synagogue and God than between the synagogue and state.

Now what qualifies a person to be a rabbi? What gives him the right, the privilege to represent the word of God to the people of God? I have been in the United States of America for thirteen years. I have not discovered America but I have discovered something in America. It is possible to be a rabbi and not to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.[19]“It would appear that the God-concept of the preponderant majority of the rabbis is free from anthropomorphism and the notion of the first cause. Only two rabbis in the entire group of 218 define God as a first cause, and only one out of every seven, as literal creator of the universe — the two supernaturalistic responses. The remainder believe that the nature of God is best expressed as: (a) “the sum total of forces which make for greater intelligence, beauty, goodness; (b) the unitary creative impulse which expresses itself in organic evolution and human progress; (c) the symbol of all that we consider good and true.” The first of these three views of God is by far the dominant one.

“With respect to the God-idea, no appreciable difference can be seen between Conservative and Reform wings. These two groups differ, however, from the Orthodox group, a majority of whom think of God primarily as a creator. In both the Conservative and the Reform wings this concept of God which best expresses the views of the rabbis is held by only about 8 percent of the respondents.” — J. Zeitlin, Disciples of the Wise, New York, 1945, p. 76.

It has become a habit with modem Jews and Jewish movements to behead, to decapitate Biblical verses. Some such decapitated פְּסוּקִים‏ have become famous slogans. The name of the ביל״ו‏ movement is an abbreviation of בֵּית יַעֲקֹב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה‏; the essence of the verse, בְּאוֹר ה׳‏,‎[20]Isaiah 2:5 was omitted. Disciples of Ahad Ha’am proclaimed כִּי לֹא בְחַיִל וְלֹא בְכֹחַ כִּי אִם בְּרוּחַ‏. Yet the prophet said בְּרוּחִי‏‏.‎[21]Zechariah 4:6 The Jewish National Fund has as its official motto וְהָאָרֶץ לֹא תִמָּכֵר לִצְמִתוּת‏; the end כִּי־לִי כל הָאָרֶץ‏ was omitted.[22]Cf. Leviticus 25:23. ‘כל‏‘ is not in the Masoretic text. –ANV During the last war the popular slogan among Russian Jews was לֹא אָמוּת כִּי־אֶחְיֶה‏; the continuation וַאֲסַפֵּר מַעֲשֵׂי יָהּ‏ was dropped.[23]Psalms 118:17

Prayer is the microcosm of the soul. It is the whole soul in one moment; the quintessence of all our acts; the climax of all our thoughts. It rises as high as our thoughts. Now, if Torah is nothing but national literature of Jewish people; if the mystery of revelation is discarded as superstition, then prayer is hardly more than a soliloquy. If God does not have power to speak to us, how should we possess the power to speak to Him? Thus, prayer is a part of a greater issue. It depends upon the total spiritual situation of man and upon a mind within which God is at home. Of course, if our lives are too barren to bring forth the spirit of worship; if all our thoughts and anxieties do not contain enough spiritual substance to be distilled into prayer, an inner transformation is a matter of emergency. And such an emergency we face today. The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God. One cannot pray unless he has faith in his own ability to accost the infinite, merciful, eternal God.

Moreover, we must not overlook one of the profound principles of Judaism. There is something which is far greater than my desire to pray, namely, God’s desire that I pray. There is something which is far greater than my will to believe, namely, God’s will that I believe. How insignificant is the outpouring of my soul in the midst of this great universe! Unless it is the will of God that I pray, unless God desires our prayer,[24]See מדרש תהלים ה:ז; שמות רבה כא:ה. how ludicrous is all my praying.

We cannot reach heaven by building a Tower of Babel. The Jewish way to God is a way of God. God’s waiting for our prayer is that which lends meaning to them.

III

How should we define prayer? Since it is, first of all, a phenomenon of the human consciousness, we must ask; What is it that a person is conscious of in a moment of prayer? There is a classical statement in rabbinic literature that expresses the spiritual minimum of prayer as an act of the consciousness of man: “Know before Whom you stand.”[25]”כשחלה ר׳ אליעזר נכנסו תלמידיו לבקרו, אמרו לו: [רבינו] למדנו אורחות חיים…אמר להם…וכשאתם מתפללים דעו לפני מי אתה עומדים.” בְּרַכוֹת כח ב׳; אבות דרבי נתן, נוסחא א׳, פי״ט. עיין ארחות חיים לר׳ אליעזר הגדול, “י״ח: בני, כשתכנס לפני יוצרך תכנס באימה וביראה וכשאתה מתפלל דע לפני מי אתה עומד.” Three ideas are contained in this definition.[26]The sentence consists of three parts: The main verb in the imperative “know.” Dependent on this main verb is the clause “before whom you stand” which can be broken up into two segments, the adverbial phrase “before whom” which contains the interrogative pronoun and “you stand” which is the subject and verb of the subordinate clause.

1. Know (or understand). A certain understanding or awareness, a definite attitude of the mind is the condition sine qua non of Jewish prayer. Prayer cannot live in a theological vacuum. It comes out of insight.

Prayer must not be treated as if it were the result of an intellectual oversight, as if it thrived best in the climate of thoughtlessness. One needs understanding, wisdom of the spirit to know what it means to worship God. Or at least one must endeavor to become free of the folly of worshipping the specious glory of mind-made deities, free of unconditional attachment to the false dogmas that populate our minds.

To live without prayer is to live without God, to live without a soul. No one is able to think of Him unless he has learned how to pray to Him. For this is the way man learns to think of the true God — of the God of Israel. He first is aware of His presence long before he thinks of His essence. And to pray is to sense His presence.

There are people who maintain that prayer is a matter of emotion. In their desire to “revitalize” prayer, they would proclaim: Let there be emotion! This is, of course, based on a fallacy. Emotion is an important component; it is not the source of prayer. The power to pray does not depend on whether a person is of a choleric or phlegmatic temperament. One may be extremely emotional and be unable to generate that power. This is decisive: worship comes out of insight. It is not the result of an intellectual oversight.

What is more, prayer has the power to generate insight; it often endows us with an understanding not attainable by speculation. Some of our deepest insights, decisions and attitudes are born in moments of prayer. Often where reflection fails, prayer succeeds. What thinking is to philosophy, prayer is to religion. And prayer can go beyond speculation. The truth of holiness is not a truth of speculation — it is the truth of worship.

“Rabbi said: I am amazed that the prayer for understanding was not included in the Sabbath liturgy! For if there is no understanding, how is it possible to pray?”[27]”רבי אומר: תמה אני היאך בטלו חונן הדעת בשבת. אם אין דיעה – תפלה מניין?” ירושלמי בְּרַכוֹת לד ב׳, בְּרַכוֹת לט ב׳.

Know before Whom you stand. Such knowledge, such understanding is not easily won. It “is neither a gift we receive undeservedly nor a treasure to be found inadvertently.” The art of awareness of God, the art of sensing His presence in our daily lives cannot be learned off-hand, “God’s grace resounds in our lives like a staccato. Only by retaining the seemingly disconnected notes comes the ability to grasp the theme.”[28]Man Is Not Alone, p. 88.

That understanding we no longer try to acquire. In the modem seminaries for the training of rabbis and teachers the art of understanding what prayer implies was not a part of the curriculum. And so it is not the Psalmist, Rabbi Jehudah Halevi, Rabbi Isaiah Horovitz or Rabbi Naḥman of Bratslav; it is Hegel, Freud, or Dewey who have become our guides in matters of Jewish prayer and God.

2. Before Whom. To have said before what would have contradicted the spirit of Jewish prayer. What is the most indefinite pronoun. In asking what, one is totally uncommitted, uninitiated, bare of any anticipation of an answer; any answer may be acceptable. But he who is totally uncommitted, who does not even have an inkling of the answer, has not learned the meaning of the ultimate question, and is not ready to engage in prayer.[29]Man Is Not Alone, ch. 8 (The Ultimate Question). If God is a what, a power, the sum total of values, how could we pray to it? An “I” does not pray to an “it.” Unless, therefore, God is at least as real as my own self; unless I am sure that God has at least as much life as I do, how could I pray?

3. You stand. The act of prayer is more than a process of the mind and a movement of the lips. It is an act that happens between man and God — in the presence of God.

Reading or studying the text of a prayer is not the same as praying. What marks the act of prayer is the decision to enter and face the presence of God. To pray means to expose oneself to Him, to His judgment.

If “prayer is the expression of the sense of being at home in the universe,”[30]E. S. Ames, Religion, p. 217. then the Psalmist who exclaimed, “I am a stranger on earth, hide not Thy commandments from me” (Psalms 119:19), was a person who grieviously misunderstood the nature of prayer. Throughout many centuries of Jewish history the true motivation for prayer was not “the sense of being at home at the universe” but the sense of not being at home in the universe. We could not but experience anxiety and spiritual homelessness in the sight of so much suffering and evil, in the countless examples of failure to live up to the will of God. That experience gained in intensity by the soul-stirring awareness that God Himself was not at home in a universe, where His will is defied, where His kingship is denied. The Sheḳinah is in exile, the world is corrupt, the universe itself is not at home….

To pray, then, means to bring God back into the world, to establish His kingship, to let His glory prevail. This is why in the greatest moments of our lives, on the Days of Awe, we cry out of the depth of our disconcerted souls, a prayer for redemption:

And so, Lord our God, grant Thy awe to all Thy works, and your dread to all Thou hast created, that all Thy works may fear Thee, and all who have been created prostrate themselves before Thee, and all form one union to do Thy will with a whole heart.

Great is the power of prayer. For to worship is to expand the presence of God in the world. God is transcendent, but our worship makes Him immanent. This is implied in the idea that God is in need of man: His being immanent depends upon us.[31]Man is Not Alone, ch. 23. When we say בָּרוּךְ‏, Blessed be He, we extend His glory, we bestow His spirit upon this world. יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ‏ . . . May there be more of God in this world.

Decisive is not the mystic experience of our being close to Him; decisive is not our feeling but our certainty of His being close to us — although even His presence is veiled and beyond the scope of our emotion. Decisive is not our emotion but our conviction. If such conviction is lacking, if the presence of God is a myth, then prayer to God is a delusion. If God is unable to listen to us, then we are insane in talking to Him.

The true source of prayer, we said above, is not an emotion but an insight. It is the insight into the mystery of reality, the sense of the ineffable, that enables us to pray. As long as we refuse to take notice of what is beyond our sight, beyond our reason; as long as we are blind to the mystery of being, the way to prayer is closed to us. If the rise of the sun is but a daily routine of nature, there is no reason to say, In mercy Thou givest light to the earth and to those who dwell on … every day constantly. If bread is nothing but flour moistened, kneaded, baked and then brought forth from the oven, it is meaningless to say, Blessed art Thou… who bringest forth bread from the earth.

The way to prayer leads through acts of wonder and radical amazement. The illusion of total intelligibility, the indifference to the mystery that is everywhere, the foolishness of ultimate self-reliance are serious obstacles on the way. It is in moments of our being faced with the mystery of living and dying, of knowing and not-knowing, of love and the inability to love — that we pray, that we address ourselves to Him who is beyond the mystery.

Praise is our first response. Aflame with inability to say what His presence means, we can only sing, we can only utter words of adoration.

This is why in Jewish liturgy praise rather than petition ranks foremost. It is the more profound form, for it involves not so much the sense of one’s own dependence and privation as the sense of God’s majesty and glory.[32]Significantly, prayers written in our time are essentially petitional. Prayers of praise often sound like self-praise.

IV

There is a specific difficulty of Jewish prayer. There are laws: how to pray, when to pray, what to pray. There are fixed times, fixed ways, fixed texts.[33]According to Rabbi Yose, “He who alters the form of benedictions fixed by the wise has failed to fulfil his obligations” (Berachoth 40b; Yerushalmi Berachoth VI, 2, 10b). Rabbi Meir declares it to he the duty of every one to say one hundred benedictions daily (Menahoth 43a, see Numbers Rabba XVIII). On the other hand, prayer is worship of the heart, the outpouring of the soul, a matter of כַּוָּנָה‏. Thus, Jewish prayer is guided by two opposite principles: order and outburst, regularity and spontaneity, uniformity and individuality, law and freedom.[34]The contrast between order and outburst is made clear through the term קֶבַע‏ Shammai said; “Make your תּוֹרָה‏ (in the sense of legal decisions made by the scholar) קֶבַע‏ (a fixed thing),” Do not be lenient to yourself and severe to others, nor lenient to others and severe to yourself. See אבות, א, ט״ו and the explication in אבות דרבי נתן, p. 47, הוצאת שעכטער, נוסחא ב׳, פרק כ״ג. In contrast Rabbi Shimeon said: When you pray, do not make your prayer a fixed thing (אבות ב׳ י״ח) .(קֶבַע‏) Rabbi Eliezer said: He who makes his prayer a fixed thing (קֶבַע‏), his prayer is not an act of grace (מִשְׁנָה בְּרַכוֹת ד׳ ד׳). These principles are the two poles about which Jewish prayer revolves. Since each of the two moves in the opposite direction, equilibrium can only be maintained if both are of equal force. However, the pole of regularity usually proves to be stronger than the pole of spontaneity, and, as a result, there is a perpetual danger of prayer becoming a mere habit, a mechanical performance, an exercise in repetitiousness. The fixed pattern and regularity of our services tends to stifle the spontaneity of devotion. Our great problem, therefore, is how not to let the principle of קֶבַע‏ impair the power of כַּוָּנָה‏. It is a problem that concerns not only prayer but the whole sphere of Jewish observance. He who is not aware of this central difficulty is a simpleton; he who offers a simple solution is a quack.

It is a problem of universal significance. Polarity is an essential trait of all things in reality, and in Jewish faith the relationship between הֲלָכָה‏ and אַגָּדָה‏ is one of polarity. Taken abstractly they seem to be mutually exclusive, yet in actual living they involve each other. Jewish tradition maintains that there is no הֲלָכָה‏ without אַגָּדָה‏ and no אַגָּדָה‏ without הֲלָכָה‏; that we must neither disparage the body nor sacrifice the spirit. The body is the discipline, the pattern, the law; the spirit is the inner devotion, spontaneity, freedom. The body without the spirit is a corpse; the spirit without the body is a ghost.

And yet the polarity exists and is a source of constant anxiety and occasional tension. How to maintain the reciprocity of tradition and freedom; how to retain both קֶבַע‏ and כַּוָּנָה‏, regularity and spontaneity, without upsetting the one or stifling the other?

At first sight, the relationship between הֲלָכָה‏ and אַגָּדָה‏ in prayer appears to be simple. Tradition gives us the text, we create the כַּוָּנָה‏. The text is given once and for all, the inner devotion comes into being every time anew. The text is the property of all ages, כַּוָּנָה‏ is the creation of a single moment. The text belongs to all Jews, כַּוָּנָה‏ is the private concern of every individual. And yet, the problem is far from being simple. The text comes out of a book, it is given; כַּוָּנָה‏ must come out of the heart. But is the heart always ready — three times a day — to bring forth devotion? And if it is, is its devotion in tune with what the text proclaims?

In regard to most aspects of observance, Jewish tradition has for pedagogic reasons given primacy to the principle of קֶבַע‏; there are many rituals concerning which the law maintains that if a person has performed them without proper כַּוָּנָה‏, he is to be regarded ex post facto as having fulfilled his duty. In prayer, however, הֲלָכָה‏ insists upon the supremacy of כַּוָּנָה‏ over the external performance, at least, theoretically.[35]The polarity of prayer and the decision in favor of the element of בּוֹנֶה‏ is implied in the following discussion.
“איבעיא להו: טעה ולא התפלל מנחה. מהו שיתפלל ערבית שתים?….תפלה במקום קרבן היא. וכיון דעבר יומו בטל קרבנו. או דילמא כיון דצלותא רחמי היא. כל אימת דבעי מצלי ואזיל? תא שמע דאמר רב הונא בר יהודה אמר רבי יצחק אמר רבי יוחנן: טעה ולא התפלל מנחה מתפלל ערבית שתים. ואין בזה משום דעבר יומו בטל קרבנו.” בְּרַכוֹת כ״ו עמוד א׳.
Thus, Maimonides declares: “Prayer without כַּוָּנָה‏ is no prayer at all. He who has prayed without כַּוָּנָה‏ ought to pray once more. He whose thoughts are wandering or occupied with other things need not pray until he has recovered his mental composure. Hence, on returning from a journey, or if one is weary or distressed, it is forbidden to pray until his mind is composed. The sages said that upon returning from a journey, one should wait three days until he is rested and his mind is calm, then he prays.”[36]מִשְׁנָה תּוֹרָה, הלכות תפלה פ״ד, ה״ו.

Significantly, Naḥmanides insists that “prayer is not a duty,” and he who prays does not perform a requirement of the law. It is not the law of God that commands us to pray; it is the love and “grace of the Creator, blessed be He, to hear and to answer whenever we call upon Him.”[37]”ודאי כל ענין התפלה אינו חובה כלל. אבל הוא ממדת חסד הבורא יתברך עלינו ששומע ועונה בכל קראנו אליו,” השגות הרמב״ן על ספר המצוות להרמב״ם, מצוות עשה ה׳.

In reality, however, the element of קֶבַע‏, of regularity, has often gained the upper hand over the element of כַּוָּנָה. Prayer has become זאנעניש, lip service, an obligation to be discharged, something to get over with. בְּפִיו וּבִשְׂפָתָיו כִּבְּדוּנִי וְלִבּוֹ רִחַק מִמֶּנִּי וַתְּהִי יִרְאָתָם אֹתִי מִצְוַת אֲנָשִׁים מְלֻמָּדָה‏‏.‎[38]Isaiah 29:13.

Typical is the common use of the term “service” for prayer. עֲבֹדָה‏ means both work, service, and worship. Yet וּלְעָבְדוֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם‏[39]Deuteronomy 11:13 does not mean to work with your heart.[40]Cf. עבודה זרה ,עבודת כוכבים. Service is an external act; worship is inwardness.

Prayer becomes trivial when ceasing to be an act in the soul. The essence of prayer is אַגָּדָה‏. Yet it would be a tragic failure not to appreciate what the spirit of הֲלָכָה‏ does for it, raising it from the level of an individual act to that of an eternal intercourse between the people Israel and God; from the level of an occasional experience to that of a permanent covenant. It is through הֲלָכָה‏ that we belong to God not occasionally, intermittently, but essentially, continually. Regularity of prayer is an expression of my belonging to an order, to the covenant between God and Israel, which remains valid regardless of whether I am conscious of it or not.

How grateful I am to God that there is a duty to worship, a law to remind my distraught mind that it is time to think of God, time to disregard my ego for at least a moment! It is such happiness to belong to an order of the divine will. I am not always in a mood to pray. I do not always have the vision and the strength to say a word in the presence of God. But when I am weak, it is the law that gives me strength; when my vision is dim, it is duty that gives me insight.

We must not think, that כַּוָּנָה‏ is a small matter. It requires constant effort, and we may fail more often than we succeed. But the battle for כַּוָּנָה‏ must go on, if we are not to die of spiritual paralysis.

The Rabbis insisted: In order to prevent the practice of repeating a prayer for superstitious or magical purposes, the Talmud ordains that a person who says the word “Hear” (O Israel) or the word “We thank Thee” twice, is to be silenced. Rab Pappa asked Abbai: But perhaps the person repeated his prayer because when he said the words the first time he did not have כַּוָּנָה‏. So he repeated the prayer in order to say it with כַּוָּנָה‏. Thus, there was no ground for suspecting him of indulging in superstition or magical practices. Why should we silence him? Answered Abbai: “Has anyone intimacy with heaven?” Has anyone the right to address God thoughtlessly as one talks to a familiar friend? “If he did not at first direct his mind to prayer, we smite him with a smith’s hammer until he does direct his mind”.[41][מתני׳] האומר….[גמ׳…] מודים מודים משתקין אותו….אמר ליה רב פפא לאביי: ודלמא מעיקרא לא כוון דעתיה ולבסוף כיון דעתיה? אמר ליה: חברותא כלפי שמיא מי איכא?! אי לא כוון דעתיה מעיקרא, מחינן ליה במרזפתא דנפחא עד רמכוין דעתיה.” בְּרַכוֹת לג ב׳ – בְּרַכוֹת לד א׳.

Prayer is not for the sake of something else. We pray in order to pray. It is the queen of all מִצְוֺת‏. No religious act is performed in which prayer is not present. No other מִצְוָה‏ enters our lives as frequently, as steadily as the majesty of prayer.

In הֲלָכָה‏ — the first tractate of the מִשְׁנָה‏ is בְּרַכוֹת‏. In Maimonides’ מִשְׁנָה תּוֹרָה‏, in Caro’s שֻׁלְחָן עֲרוּךְ‏, the first section deals with prayer. In אַגָּדָה‏ — we are told that “prayer is greater than good deeds,” “more precious than … sacrifices,”[42].בְּרַכוֹת ל״ב, א׳ To Rabbenu Baḥya ben Asher, the spiritual sphere that prayer can reach is higher than the sphere out of which inspiration of the prophets flows.[43]בחיי. פָּרָשַׁת עֵקֶב.

The philosophy of Jewish living is essentially a philosophy of worship. For what is observance, if not a form of worshipping God?

What is a מִצְוָה‏? A prayer in the form of a deed.

This is the way of finding out whether we serve God, or an idea of God — through prayer. It is the test of all we are doing. What is the difference between תּוֹרָה‏ and Wissenschaft des Judentums? If an idea we have clarified, a concept we have evolved can be turned into a prayer, it is תּוֹרָה‏. If it proves to be an aid to praying with greater כַּוָּנָה‏, it is תּוֹרָה‏; otherwise it is Wissenschaft. Prayer is of no importance unless it is of supreme importance. כְּרֻם זֻלּוּת לִבְנֵי אָדָם (תהלים יב:ט) אֵלּוּ דְּבָרִים הָעוֹמְדִים בְּרוּמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, וּבְנֵי אָדָם מְזַלְּזְלִים בָּהֶם‏‏.‎[44]בְּרַכוֹת ל׳ עמוד ב׳.

V

My intention is not to offer blueprints, to prescribe new rules — except one: Prayer must have life. It must not be a drudgery, something done in a rut, something to get over with. It must not be fiction, it must not be flattened to a ceremony, to an act of mere respect for tradition.

If the main purpose of being a rabbi is to bring men closer to their Father in heaven, then one of his supreme tasks is to pray and to teach others how to pray. Torah, worship and charity are the three pillars upon which the world rests. To be a Jew implies the acceptance of the preeminence of prayer.

To be able to inspire people to pray one must love his people, understand their predicaments and be sensitive to the power of exaltation, purification and sanctification hidden in our Prayer Book. To attain such sensitivity he must commune with the great masters of the past, and learn how to pour one’s own dreams and anxieties into the well of prayer.

We must learn to acquire the basic virtues of inwardness which alone qualify a rabbi to be a mentor of prayer.

One of such virtues is a sense of spiritual delicacy. Vulgarity is deadness to delicacy; the sin of incongruity; the state of being insensitive to the hierarchy of living, to the separation of private and public, of intimate and social, of sacred and profane, of farce and reverence.

In itself no act is vulgar; it is the incongruity of the circumstances, the mixing up of the spheres, the right thing in the wrong context, the out-of-placeness that generates vulgarity. The use of devices proper in merchandizing for influencing opinion about the quality of a work of music; bringing to public notice a matter that belongs to the sphere of intimate life;[45]A good illustration is the Rabbinical dictum, “אמר רב חנן בר רב: הכל יודעין כלה למה נכנסה לחופה. אלא כל המנבל פיו ומוציא דבר נבלה מפיו אפילו נחתם לו גזר דינו של שבעים שנה לטובה נהפך עליו לרעה.” כתובות ח׳ עמוד ב׳. having a חֻפָּה‏ at a בַּר מִצְוָה‏ with parents and grandparents marching with candles in their hands in a darkened auditorium and a page boy marching behind the בַּר מִצְוָה‏, carrying a טַלִּית‏, is vulgar; the חֻפָּה‏ belongs elsewhere.

For us, it is of vital importance to beware of intellectual vulgarity. Many categories, conceptions or words that are properly employed in the realm of our political, economic, or even scientific activities are, when applied to issues such as God or prayer, an affront to the spirit. Let us never put the shoes in the Ark; let us try to regain a sense of הַבְדָּלָה‏, of separation, of spiritual delicacy. Let us recapture the meaning of לְהַבְדִּיל‏.

The problem is not how to revitalize prayer; the problem is how to revitalize ourselves. Let us begin to cultivate those thoughts and virtues without which our worship becomes, of necessity, a prayer for the dead — for ideas which are dead to our hearts.

We must not surrender to the power of platitudes. If our rational methods are deficient and too weak to plumb the depth of faith, let us go into stillness and wait for the age in which reason will learn to appreciate the spirit rather than accept standardized notions that stifle the mind and stultify the soul. We must not take too seriously phrases or ideas which the history of human thought must have meant in jest, as for example, that prayer is “a symbol of ideas and values,” “a tendency to idealize the world,” “an act of the appreciation of the self.” There was a time when God became so distant that we were almost ready to deny Him, had psychologists or sociologists not been willing to permit us to believe in Him. And how grateful some of us were when told ex cathedra that prayer is not totally irrelevant because it does satisfy an emotional need.

To Judaism the purpose of prayer is not to satisfy an emotional need. Prayer is not a need but an ontological necessity, an act that expresses the very essence of man. התפלה היא לאדם כאשר הוא אדם‏‏.‎[46][Paraphrasing the Maharal in Netivot, ch. 2] מהר״ל. נתיבות עולם, העבודה, פרק ב׳. He who has never prayed is not fully human. Ontology, not psychology or sociology, explains prayer.

The dignity of man consists not in his ability to make tools, machines, guns, but primarily in his being endowed with the gift of addressing God. It is this gift which should be a part of the definition of man,[47]”כָּל־אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם לֹא תְעַנּוּן׃ אִם־עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ כִּי אִם־צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ׃” (שמות כב:כא-כב). כך אמר דוד: רבונו של עולם, אפילו רשע שבישראל כשיבא לקרוא לפניך ענה אותו מיד. אמר ליה הקדוש ברוך הוא: חייך, עד שלא יקראני עניתיו, שנאמר (תהלים נ:טו) וּקְרָאֵנִי בְּיוֹם צָרָה אֲחַלֶּצְךָ וּתְכַבְּדֵנִי, ואומר: יִקְרָאֵנִי וְאֶעֱנֵהוּ (תהלים צא:טו), ואומר: וְהָיָה טֶרֶם־יִקְרָאוּ וַאֲנִי אֶעֱנֶה (ישעיה סה:כד). ואף על פי כן צריך שתהא קריאתו באמת, שנאמר קָרוֹב ה׳ לְכָל־קֹרְאָיו (תהלים קמה:יח), יכול לכל? תלמור לומר לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאֻהוּ בֶאֱמֶת.” מדרש תהלים ד:ג.

We must learn now to study the inner life of the words that fill the world of our prayerbook. Without intense study of their meaning, we feel, indeed, bewildered when we encounter the multitude of those strange, lofty beings that populate the inner cosmos of the Jewish spirit. It is not enough to know how to translate Hebrew into English; it is not enough to have met a word in the dictionary and to have experienced unpleasant adventures with it in the study of grammar. A word has a soul, and we must learn how to attain insight into its life.

This is our affliction — we do not know how to look across a word to its meaning. We forgot how to find the way to the word, how to be on intimate terms with a few passages in the prayerbook. Familiar with all words, we are intimate with none.

As a result, we say words but make no decisions, forgetting that in prayer words are commitments, not the subject matter for esthetic reflection, that prayer is meaningless unless we stand for what we utter, unless we feel what we accept. A word of prayer is a word of honor given to God. However, we have lost our sense for the earnestness of speech, for the dignity of utterance. Spiritual life demands the sanctification of speech. Without an attitude of piety toward words, we will remain at a loss how to pray.

Moreover, words must not be said for the sake of stiffening the mind, of tightening the heart. They must open the mind and untie the heart. A word may be either a blessing or a misfortune. As a blessing it is the insight of a people in the form of a sound, a store of meaning accumulated throughout the ages. As a misfortune it is a substitute for insight, a pretext or a cliché. To those who remember, many of the words in the סִדּוּר‏ are still warm with the glow of our fathers’ devotion. Such Jews we must aspire to recall. While those who have no such memory we must teach how to sense the spiritual life that pulsates through the throbbing words.

In the light of such a decision about the preeminence of prayer, the role as well as the nature of the sermon will have to be reexamined. The prominence given to the sermon as if the sermon were the core and prayer the shell, is not only a drain on the intellectual resources of the rabbis but also a serious deviation from the spirit of our tradition. The sermon unlike prayer has never been considered as one of the supreme things in this world, דְּבָרִים הָעוֹמְדִים בְּרוּמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם‏‏.‎[48]Berakhot 6b.22 If the vast amount of time and energy invested in the search of ideas and devices for preaching; if the fire spent on the altar of oratory were dedicated to the realm of prayer, we would not find it too difficult to convey to others what it means to utter a word in the presence of God.

Preaching is either an organic part of the act of prayer or חֻלִּין בָּעֲזָרָה‏. Sermons indistinguishable in spirit from editorials in the New York Times, urging us to have faith in the New Deal, the Big Three or the United Nations, or attempting to instruct us in the latest theories of psychoanalysis, will hardly inspire us to go on to the מוּסָף‏ and to pray.

Through all generations we will declare Thy greatness;
To all eternity
we will proclaim Thy holiness;
Thy praise, our God,
shall never depart from our mouth.

Preach in order to pray. Preach in order to inspire others to pray. The test of a true sermon is that it can be converted to prayer.

To the average worshipper many texts of perennial significance have become vapid and seem to be an assembly line of syllables. It is, therefore, a praiseworthy custom for the rabbi to bring forth the meaning of the prayers to the congregation. Unfortunately, some rabbis seem to think that their task is to teach popular Wissenschaft, and as a result some services are conducted as if they were adult-education programs. Dwelling on the historical aspects, they discuss, for example, the date of composition of the prayers, the peculiarities of their literary form or the supposedly primitive origin of some of our laws and customs.

What about the spirit of prayer? What about relating the people to the truth of its ideas? Too often, so-called explanation kills inspiration.[49]I am informed that a congregation listening to comments delivered before the הַבְדָּלָה‏ was told the following: “At the conclusion of the Sabbath, when the additional soul departs, one must be refreshed by smelling aromatic herbs, for at that moment, according to the זֹהַר‏, ‘the soul and spirit are separated and sad until the smell comes and unites them and makes them glad.’ However, this is, of course, not the true reason. The authentic origin of the ceremony is that in ancient times people ate a great deal on the Sabbath and a bad odor came out of their mouth. In order to drive out the odor, they used spices.” The suggestion that the Day of Atonement grew out of a pagan festival is, regardless of its scientific merit, hardly consonant with the spirit of the moment of כָּל נִדְרֵי‏.

Nor must prayer be treated as an ancestral institution. In explaining sections of the prayer book our task is not to give a discourse about quaint customs or about “the way our fathers used to think.” The סִדּוּר is not a museum of intellectual antiquities and the synagogue is not a house of lectureship but a house of worship. The purpose of such comments is to inspire “outpouring of the heart” rather than to satisfy historical curiosity; to set forth the hidden relevance of ideas rather than hypotheses of forgotten origins.

There is a book which everyone talks about, but few people have really read. A book which has the distinction of being one of the least known books in our literature. It is the סִדּוּר, the prayerbook. Have we ever pondered the meaning of its words? Let us consider an example:

Sing unto the Lord, a new song;
Sing unto the Lord, all the earth.
–Psalms 96:1

Praise Him, sun and moon,
Praise Him, all you shining stars.
–Psalms 148:3

The Egyptian priest could not call upon the stars to praise the gods. He believed that the soul of Isis sparkled in Sirius, the soul of Horus in Orion, and the soul of Typhon in the Great Bear; it was beyond his scope to conceive that all beings stand in awe and worship God. In our liturgy we go beyond a mere hope; every seventh day we proclaim as a fact נִשְׁמַת כָּל חַי תְּבַרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ‏. The soul of everything that lives blesses Thy name.[50]The usual translation “shall bless” totally misses the meaning of the passage.

הַכֹּל יוֹדוּךָ
וְהַכֹּל יְשַׁבְּחוּךָ.
וְהַכֹּל יֹאמְרוּ
אֵין קָדוֹשׁ כה׳‏
They all thank,
They all praise,
They all say,
There is none holy like the Lord.[51]First blessing before the Shema

Whose ear has ever heard how all trees sing to God? Has our reason ever thought of calling upon the sun to praise the Lord? And yet, what the ear fails to perceive, what reason fails to conceive, our prayer makes clear to our souls. It is a higher truth, to be grasped by the spirit.

יוֹדוּךָ ה׳ כָּל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ‏
All Thy works praise Thee
–Psalms 145:10

The trouble with the prayerbook is: it is too great for us, it is too lofty. Since we have failed to introduce our minds to its greatness, our souls are often lost in its sublime wilderness.

The סִדּוּר‏ has become a foreign language even to those of us who know Hebrew. It is not enough to know the vocabulary; what is necessary is to understand the categories, the way of thinking of the סִדּוּר‏. It is not enough to read the words; what is necessary is to answer them.

Our prayerbook is going to remain obscure unless Jewish teachers will realize that one of their foremost tasks is to discover, to explain and to interpret the words of the Prayerbook. What we need is a sympathetic סִדּוּר‏exegesis.

Religious movements in our history have often revolved around the problem of liturgy. In the modern movements, too, liturgy was a central issue.

But there was a difference. To Kabbalah and Hasidism the primary problem was how to pray; to the modern movements, the primary problem was what to say. What has Ḥasidism accomplished? It has inspired worship in a vast number of Jews. What have the moderns accomplished? They have inspired the publication of a vast number of prayerbooks. It is important for the Assembly to clarify its goal. Is it to make a contribution to bibliography or to endow our people with a sense of כַּוָּנָה‏? There has been for many years a Prayerbook Commission. Why is there no Prayer Commission?

Modern Jews suffer from a neurosis which I should like to call the סִדּוּר‏complex.

True, the text of the prayerbook presents difficulties to many people. But the crisis of prayer is not a problem of the text. It is a problem of the soul. The סִדּוּר‏ must not be used as a scapegoat. A revision of the prayerbook will not solve the crisis of prayer. What we need is a revision of the soul, a new heart rather than a new text. Did the Jews begin to pray with more כַּוָּנָה‏ since the reference to sacrifices was emended? Textual emendations will not save the spirit of prayer. Nothing less than a spiritual revolution will save prayer from oblivion.

כַּוָּנָה‏ is more than attentiveness, more than the state of being aware of what we are saying. If כַּוָּנָה‏ were only presence of the mind, it would be easily achieved by a mere turn of the mind. Yet, according to the Mishnah, the pious men of old felt that they had to meditate an hour in order to attain the state of כַּוָּנָה‏. In the words of the Mishnah, כַּוָּנָה‏ means “to direct the heart to the Father in heaven”. It is not phrased, to direct the heart to the text or the content of the prayer.[52]Cf. רבינו יונה, ריש תפלת השחר. כַּוָּנָה‏, then, is more than paying attention to the literal meaning of a text. It is attentiveness to God, an act of appreciation of being able to stand in the presence of God.

Appreciation is not the same as reflection. It is one’s being drawn to the preciousness of something he is faced with. To sense the preciousness of being able to pray, to be perceptive of the supreme significance of worshipping of God is the beginning of higher כַּוָּנָה‏.

“Prayer without כַּוָּנָה‏ is like a body without a soul.” “A word uttered without the fear and love of God does not rise to heaven.” Once Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdychev while visiting a city went to a synagogue. Arriving at the gate he refused to enter. When his disciples inquired what was wrong with the synagogue, they received the reply: “The synagogue is full of words of Torah and prayer.” This seemed the highest praise to his disciples, and even more reason to enter the synagogue. When they questioned him further, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak explained: “Words uttered without fear, uttered without love, do not rise to heaven. I sense that the synagogue is full of Torah and full of prayer.”

Judaism is not a religion of space.[53]“Rabbi Hama ben Hanina and Rabbi Oshaya were strolling near the synagogue of Lud. Rabbi Hama boasted: “How much money have my ancestors invested in these buildings!” Rabbi Oshaya replied: “How many souls have they wasted here! Were there no students of Torah to support instead?” ¶Rabbi Abin donated a gate to the Great Synagogue. When Rabbi Mana came to him, he boasted: “Do you see what I have done?” Said Rabbi Mana: “’When Israel forgets its Creator, they build temples.’ (Hosea 8:14) Were there no students of Torah to support instead?” (שקלים ה׳, סוף). To put it sharply, it is better to have prayer without a synagogue than a synagogue without prayer.[54]‏”אמר הקב״ה לישראל אני אמרתי לך שתהא מתפלל בבית הכנסת שיש בעירך. ואם אין את יכול להתפלל בבית הכנסת, התפלל בתוך שדך. ואם אין את יכול להתפלל בתוך שדך, התפלל בתוך ביתך. ואם אין את יכול להתפלל בתוך ביתך, התפלל על מטתך. ואם אין את יכול להתפלל על מטתך, הרהר בליבך. הדא הוא דכתיב (תהלים ד:ה) אִמְרוּ בִלְבַבְכֶם עַל־מִשְׁכַּבְכֶם וְדֹמּוּ סֶלָה,” פסיקתא דרב כהנא כ״ד ד׳ וגם מדרש תהלים, ד׳ יא׳. And yet we always speak of synagogue attendance rather than of prayer. It is the right word for the wrong spirit. By being in the space of a synagogue while a service is being conducted one has not fulfilled his religious duty. Many of those attending Sabbath services arrive during the reading of the weekly Torah portion and leave without having read the שְׁמַע‏ or prayed the עֲמִידָה‏ of שַׁחֲרִית‏ — the two most important parts of the prayer. Nor is it the primary purpose of prayer “To promote Jewish unity.” As we said above, prayer is a personal duty, and an intimate act which cannot be delegated to either the cantor or the whole community. We pray with the whole community, and everyone of us by himself. We must make clear to every Jew that his duty is to pray rather than to be a part of an audience.

The rabbi’s role in the sacred hour of worship goes far beyond that of maintaining order and decorum. His unique task is to be a power for הִתְעוֹרְרוּת‏, to endow others with a sense of כַּוָּנָה‏. And as we have said, כַּוָּנָה‏ is more than a touch of emotion. כַּוָּנָה‏ is insight, appreciation. To acquire such insight, to deepen such appreciation, is something we must learn all the days of our lives. It is something we must live all the days of our lives. Such insight, such appreciation, we must convey to others. It may be difficult to convey to others what we think, but it is not difficult to convey to others what we live. Our task is to echo and to reflect the light and spirit of prayer.

It was in the interest of bringing about order and decorum that in some synagogues the rabbi and cantor decided to occupy a position facing the congregation. It is quite possible that a reexamination of the whole problem of worship would lead to the conclusion that the innovation was an error. The essence of prayer is not decorum but rather an event in the inner life of men. המתפלל צריך שיתן עיניו למטה ולבו למעלה‏.‎[55]יבמות ק״ה עמוד ב׳. עיין ראש השנה כ״ו עמוד ב׳: “בראש השנה כמה דכייף איניש דעתיה טפי מעלי” רש״י: “כמה דכייף איניש – בתפלתו, פניו כבושין לארץ טפי עדיף משום וְהָיוּ עֵינַי וְלִבִּי שָׁם (מלכים א׳ ט:ג)” . “He who prays must turn his eyes down and his heart up.” What goes on in the heart is reflected in one’s face. It is embarrassing to be exposed to the sight of the whole congregation in moments when one wishes to be alone with his God.

A cantor who faces the holiness in the Ark rather than the curiosity of man will realize that his audience is God. He will learn to realize that his task is not to entertain but to represent the people Israel. He will be carried away into moments in which he will forget the world, ignore the congregation and be overcome by the awareness of Him in Whose presence he stands. The congregation then will hear and sense that the cantor is not giving a recital but worshipping God, that to pray does not mean to listen to a singer but to identify oneself with what is being proclaimed in their name.[56]”ולתפלה שליח צבור כוה כל הצבור מכוונין את לבם. והקדוש ברוך הוא מקבל תפלת” ר׳ ישראל אלנקאוה, מנורת המאור, חלק ב׳, עמוד 84.

כַּוָּנָה‏ requires preparation. Miracles may happen, but one must not rely on miracles. The spirit of prayer is frequently decided during the hour which precedes the time of prayer. Negatively, one is not ready to engage in certain activities, or even in light talk before he prays. And positively one must learn to perform a degree of inner purification before venturing to address the King of kings. According to Maimonides, “One must free his heart from all other thoughts and regard himself as standing in the presence of the שְׁכִינָה‏. Therefore, before engaging in prayer, the worshipper ought to go aside a little in order to bring himself into a devotional frame of mind, and then he must pray quietly and with feeling, not like one who carries a weight and throws it away and goes farther.”[57].מִשְׁנָה תּוֹרָה, הלכות תפלה פ״ד, המ״ז

Let us pray the way we talk. Let us not just utter consonants and vowels. Let us learn how to chant our prayers. It is one of our tragedies that we did not know how to appreciate the very soul of our ancient speech, the נֻסַּח, and instead, have adopted a pompous monotonous manner. Let us try to recapture the last traces of our ancient נֻסַּח‏. Let us learn to express what we say.

We are the most challenged people under the sun. Our existence is either superfluous or indispensable to the world; it is either tragic or holy to be a Jew.

It is a matter of immense responsibility that we here and Jewish teachers everywhere have undertaken to instill in our youth the will to be Jews today, tomorrow and forever and ever. Unless being a Jew is of absolute significance, how can we justify the ultimate price which our people was often forced to pay throughout its history? To assess Judaism soberly and farsightedly is to establish it as a good to be preferred, if necessary, to any alternative which we may ever face. This is often the only adequate perspective of evaluating Judaism, a perspective into which the world currents do not tire to force us, whether in the name of hellenistic culture, of Almohadic Islam, of medieval crusaders, of modem assimilation or of contemporary Fascism. The truth is, we have more faith than we are willing to admit. Yet it is stifled, suppressed and distorted by an irreligious way of thinking.

At this hour, O Lord, we open our thoughts to thee, in tears and contrition. We, teachers in Israel, stand at this present moment between all of the past and all of the future of the people of Israel. It is upon us to hand over the Torah, the holiness, the spirit of prophets, sages, and saints, to all the generations to come. If we should fail much of Judaism will be lost, gone and forgotten. O Lord! we confess our failure. Day after day we have betrayed Thee. Steeped in vanity, envy, ambition, we have often labored to magnify our own names, although we said יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא‏. Dazzled by the splendor of intellectual fads, we have accepted platitudes as dogmas, prejudices as solutions, although we repeated וְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם נָטַע בְּתוֹכֵנוּ‏‏.‎[58]from the blessing over the study of Torah

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ אָבִינוּ לְתוֹרָתֶךָ‏
[Cause us to return, our Father, to Your Torah.[59]from the blessing for repentance/tshuva in the weekday Amidah]

“The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel was a speech given at the Fifty-Third Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of America which took place at the Breakers Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey from Tammuz 9 to Tammuz 14, 5713 (June 22 To June 27, 1953). The speech was subsequently published in the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly of America v.17. I have added additional citation references not included in the intial printing of the speech and digitally transcribed all the Hebrew text, adding niqud to improve access and readability. –Aharon N. Varady

Edward Kaplan provides important context for presentation and aftermath of Heschel’s speech in his book, Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940–1972 (Yale University Press 2007). Below are the specific paragraphs from ch. 8, “Critique of American Judaism (1952–1954): The Soul of Conservative Judaism” p. 146-151 that include Heschel’s remarks following its reception. (Please read Kaplan’s book for the full account.)

That summer [of 1953], Heschel delivered his fullest critique of American Jewish practice. Recognizing that the bourgeoning of synagogues in suburbia had not enhanced the quality of observance and religious learning, leaders of the Reform and Conservative rabbinates separately invited Heschel to define his ideal of prayer to colleagues in the field. During the week of 22–27 June 1953, he embarked upon a sort of shuttle diplomacy, delivering his most detailed outline of what he thought rabbis of all denominations should strive for.[60]While Heschel was trying to reinvigorate the American Jewish community, he was losing many friends from his Yiddish-speaking immigrant world. On 14 March 1953, Hayim Greenberg, editor of Yidisher Kemfer and Jewish Frontier, died at age sixty-three. On 31 March, Abraham Reisen, known as “the dean of Yiddish poets,” died at age seventy-seven. Reisen was born in Koidanov, Russia, the home of Heschel’s maternal relatives. In addition to these personal losses, Heschel was dismayed by the execution on 19 June of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage. The officiating rabbi at their funeral two days later was Abraham Cronbach, Heschel’s friend from Hebrew Union College.

To each group, Heschel asserted exactly what its members did not want to hear. Conservative Judaism, like Orthodox, emphasized law (halakhah) and ritual observance over cultivation of the inner life; Reform rejected the authority of halakhah in favor of rational philosophy and individual choice. To the leaders of each movement Heschel tailored his counterdiscourse to restore the fullness of Judaism, contradictions and all….

Heschel’s keynote speech, “The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” followed the presidential report. Heschel began diplomatically, anticipating some hurt feelings: “In advancing some critical remarks I do not mean, God forbid [in Hebrew], to take a superior attitude. In all honesty, my criticism will be to a considerable degree self-criticism.” But those criticisms of the congregational rabbis were harsh: “Our services are conducted with pomp and precision. The rendition of the liturgy is smooth. Everything is present: decorum, voice, ceremony. But one thing is missing: Life.” Heschel’s images were graphic and his tone was caustic: “Has the synagogue become the graveyard where prayer is buried? Are we, the spiritual leaders of American Jewry, members of a chevrah kadisha [burial society]?”[61]Heschel 1953, “The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” Proceedings 1953, 151. Heschel incorporated a revised version of the speech into chapter 3 of Man’s Quest for God, “Spontaneity is the Goal,” 49–89. All quotations in the text are from the original Proceedings version, which contains a number of Hebrew words, phrases, and quotations.

To define the substance of authentic prayer Heschel denounced “the habit of praying by proxy,” letting the rabbi and the cantor do the work: “Our prayers have so little charm, so little grace, so little chen [grace; Hebrew]. What is chen? The presence of the soul. A person has chen when the throbbing of his heart is audible in his voice; when the longings of his soul animate his face.” He deplored the “spiritual absenteeism” of congregants who simply attended services without truly participating. Faulty thinking, he claimed, was to blame for such apathy.

Heschel summarized the four “prevalent doctrines” of God and Judaism, measuring each view by the standards of a living God. His analyses were stark, provocative, and verging on caricature. First was “the doctrine of agnosticism,” which considered “prayer [to be] a fraud.” Heschel condemned those who believed that “the only way to revitalize the synagogue is to minimize the importance of prayer and to convert the synagogue into a center. It is something which the Talmud characterizes as sin: ‘To call a Holy Ark a chest and to call a synagogue a community center [in Hebrew].’ ” These strictures were obviously directed at Reconstructionists and their secularizing sympathizers.

Second, he denounced “the doctrine of religious behaviorism,” widespread among Orthodox and some Conservative Jews, in which people “seem to believe that religious deeds can be performed in a spiritual wasteland, in the absence of the soul, with a heart hermetically sealed.” Heschel was alluding to the foremost exponent of modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who defined the ideal Jew as “Halakhic Man.”[62]A simplistic reading of Soloveitchik’s foundational essay, “Halakhic Man,” might suggest that it was only necessary to follow the rules; one did not have to strive for attachment to God: Soloveitchik 1983.

Heschel then targeted Reform (and numerous Conservative) Jews imbued with the view of Judaism as a civilization. They were proponents of the “doctrine of prayer as a social act,” which “is built on a theology which regards God as a symbol of social action, as an epitome of the ideals of the group, as ‘the spirit of the beloved community.’ ” Although Heschel strategically did not name the obvious author of this faulty ideology, Mordecai Kaplan, his condemnation of what he called the “sociological fallacy” could not be more explicit.[63]In the printed version, Heschel referred in a footnote (Proceedings 153, 156n3) to Josiah Royce’s The Problem of Christianity (1913), rather than Kaplan’s Judaism as a Civilization (1934) when citing a Kaplanian axiom: God is a symbol of social action, “the spirit of the beloved community.” Heschel’s fourth and final target was a variant of “process theology,” which he caricatured as “the doctrine of religious solipsism.” According to that view, “the individual self of the worshiper is the whole sphere of prayer-life. The assumption is that God is an idea, a process, a source, a fountain, a spring, a power. But one cannot pray to an idea, one cannot address his payers to a fountain of values.” Once more, Heschel avoided singling out specific thinkers within his community by attacking a 1911 book by the French psychologist Joseph Segond.[64]“A discussion of this view, which is so popular today, is found in I. [Joseph] Segond, La prière, étude de psychologie religieuse, Paris, 1911, p. 52”: Proceedings 1953, 158n7a.

Heschel warned that American Jews were undergoing a crisis of belief. The problem among their leaders too was widespread: “I have been in the United States of America for thirteen years. I have not discovered America but I have discovered something in America. It is possible to be a rabbi and not to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Most American rabbis, according to a survey he cited, conceived of God as “the sum total of forces which make for greater intelligence, beauty, goodness.” Heschel demanded faith in a personal God, for “if the presence of God is a myth, then we are insane in talking to Him.” The risks of such intransigence were enormous.[65]Heschel is referring to Joseph Zeitlin, Disciples of the Wise: The Religious and Social Opinions of American Rabbis (New York: Teachers Institute, Columbia University, 1945), 76. See also Proceedings 1953, 163: “Decisive is not the mystic experience of our being close to Him; decisive is not our feeling but our certainty of His being close to us.”

Once again Heschel refused to compromise. God’s presence in the world was at stake: as he had noted in Man Is Not Alone, “Great is the power of prayer. For to worship is to expand the presence of God in the world. God is transcendent, but our worship of Him makes him immanent.”[66]Proceedings 1953, 164, citing Heschel’s footnote to Man Is Not Alone, chap. 23. Heschel concluded with several suggestions on how to maintain the centrality of prayer. Jews should concentrate on “how to pray,” not “what to say.” Poking fun at the Prayer Book Commission, Heschel called for a “Prayer Commission.” He also suggested that the rabbi and cantor stop facing the congregation, an innovation that had been made for the sake of decorum: “It is embarrassing to be exposed to the sight of the whole congregation in moments when one wishes to be alone with his God. A cantor who faces the holiness in the Ark rather than the curiosity of man will realize that his audience is God.” Finally, urged Heschel, rabbis, teachers, and cantors must embody the “absolute significance” of being a Jew.

In “The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” Heschel bore radical witness to the need for an American Jewish theology. But his was a lonely voice. With his demand for absolute integrity, how could he expect support from the majority? He himself had cited statistical proof that most American rabbis did not believe in God. In addition, Heschel’s insistence on the magnitude of human evil undercut the optimism of American Jews in the 1950s. His view, compatible with Hasidic tradition and the recent cataclysm of the Holocaust, was that humans’ alienation from God reflected “the soul-stirring awareness that God Himself was not at home in a universe, where His will is defied, where His kingship is denied. The Shekhinah is in exile, the world is corrupt, the universe itself is not at home.” Many in Heschel’s audience were offended by his sarcasm; they felt like “whipping boys,” as Arthur Cohen had warned him could happen, and were hurt and angry.

….Then Heschel stood up. He was surprised, “puzzled,” “amazed,” and even “distressed” that his call for authentic prayer in Conservative synagogues had provoked such indignation. But even as he attempted to engage in a sympathetic discussion, he revealed his stubborn, insensitive side. He began defensively, insisting that he had postponed his own research to examine “the details of a problem which is specifically and uniquely yours.” But he then acknowledged that “your problems, too, are mine. The assurance that I was speaking in the spirit of self-criticism was not an empty phrase. All my life I have been deeply bothered by my own miserable failure to attain kavvanah in prayer.” Heschel then tried to justify his polemical style. He explained that sharp phrases such as “the separation of synagogue and God,” “decapitated prayer,” or “prayer without God” were intended simply to make his position clear.

[Ira Eisenstein, president of the Rabbinical Assembly and a leader in the Reconstructionist Movement,] invited the principal speakers [Heschel and Eugene Kohn, another Reconstructionist leader,] to have the final word….Heschel spoke first, asserting that most misunderstandings were matters of emphasis and repeating his avowal that true prayer was difficult for him to achieve: “I am profoundly embarrassed by the inadequacy of my praying. I have no peace of mind, nor do I submit to despair.” Then he made an astounding admission, which drew him closer to some of his listeners: “I have been wrestling with the problem all my life as to whether I really mean God when I pray to Him, whether I have even succeeded in knowing what I am talking about and whom I am talking to. I still don’t know whether I serve God or I serve something else.” This was not a confession of agnosticism; Heschel did not doubt the reality of God. But, as a sophisticated thinker, he realized that he was handicapped by the inadequacy of language to evoke the ultimate. Religious reality was essentially “ineffable.” The task of his philosophy of religion, systematic reflection on the experience of piety, was to elucidate the dilemma of faith.

He also attempted to modify some of his criticisms. He had not dismissed decorum in the synagogue as such, nor did he condemn interpretation of the liturgy. He only questioned approaching the problem of prayer with “historic information rather than commitment, rather than inner identification.” A rabbi must be able to discover “something new, something fresh” in his heart: “I do not refer to any supernatural events or to any scholarly discoveries. I refer to countless moments of insight which can be gained from communing with the individual words.”

But he continued to assert the authority of his own intuition, thereby cutting himself off from rationalists who preferred intellectual constructs. Heschel denied that he had spoken of “a concept or demanded the acceptance of a definition. We Jews have no concepts; all we have is faith, faith in His willingness to listen to us. We have no information, but we sense and believe in His being near to us.” Heschel seemed to accept only one answer to his own question: “Whom am I serving when I use the word God?”

Heschel did attempt to recover some common ground by respecting his “opponents” as human beings: “The strange thing about many of our contemporaries is that their life is nobler than their ideology, that their faith is deep and their views shallow, that their souls are suppressed and their slogans proclaimed.” Discreetly but unmistakably Heschel was alluding to Mordecai Kaplan: “We must not continue to cherish a theory, just because we have embraced it forty years ago.” In the end, his response did not advance the dialogue, for all his attempts to do so.

Source(s)

Notes   [ + ]

  1, 48. Berakhot 6b.22
  2. Cf. Jerusalem Talmud Bava Metsia 27a.1; Bava Kamma 116b.3-4
  3. Lamentations 3:40, Berakhot 5a.9
  4. Musaf Service for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
  5. Psalms 51:17
  6. Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9
  7. Jeremiah 8:22
  8. Psalms 115:17
  9. Ovid, Tristia, III, 8.11.
  10. Shabbat 32a.9
  11. J. Royce, The Problem of Christianity, 1913, 1, pp. 172, 408f.
  12. E. S. Ames, Religion, New York, 1929, p. 132.
  13. E. W. Lyman, The Meaning of Truth in Religion, p, 33.
  14. ”מזמן משה רבינו ע״ה עד כנסת הגדולה…לא היו מתקבצים ישראל בכל מקומות מושבותם ערב ובקר וצהרים במקום מיוחד להתפלל בו תפלת צבור, אלא כל אחד היה מתפלל ביחיד במקום שיודמן לו. כי לא מצאנו בנביאים וכתובים תפלת צבור עד אחד החרבן שתקנו אנשי כנסת הגדולה י״ח בְּרַכוֹת ודברים שבקדושה שאינן בפחות מעשרה”, ר׳ משה בר׳ יוסף מטראני, בית אלהים, ויניציאה של״ו.
  15. ”אֲמָרַי הַאֲזִינָה ה׳ בִּינָה הֲגִיגִי (תהלים ה:ב) אמר דוד לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא: רבונו של עולם, בשעה שיש לי כח לעמוד לפניך בתפלה ולהוציא אמרי האזינה. ובשעה שאין בי כח התבונן מה בלבי בינה הגיגי.” מדרש תהלים ה:ד.
  16. A discussion of this view, which is so popular today, is found in I. Segond, La prière, étude de psychologie religieuse, Paris, 1911, p. 52.
  17. Cf. A.J. Heschel, “Prayer” in Review of Religion, January 1945, p. 156.
  18. Midrash Tehillim 12:1 and 14:3; also Pesachim 113b.2, Bava Metzia 49a.6, Midrash Mishlei et al
  19. “It would appear that the God-concept of the preponderant majority of the rabbis is free from anthropomorphism and the notion of the first cause. Only two rabbis in the entire group of 218 define God as a first cause, and only one out of every seven, as literal creator of the universe — the two supernaturalistic responses. The remainder believe that the nature of God is best expressed as: (a) “the sum total of forces which make for greater intelligence, beauty, goodness; (b) the unitary creative impulse which expresses itself in organic evolution and human progress; (c) the symbol of all that we consider good and true.” The first of these three views of God is by far the dominant one.

“With respect to the God-idea, no appreciable difference can be seen between Conservative and Reform wings. These two groups differ, however, from the Orthodox group, a majority of whom think of God primarily as a creator. In both the Conservative and the Reform wings this concept of God which best expresses the views of the rabbis is held by only about 8 percent of the respondents.” — J. Zeitlin, Disciples of the Wise, New York, 1945, p. 76.

  20. Isaiah 2:5
  21. Zechariah 4:6
  22. Cf. Leviticus 25:23. ‘כל‏‘ is not in the Masoretic text. –ANV
  23. Psalms 118:17
  24. See מדרש תהלים ה:ז; שמות רבה כא:ה.
  25. ”כשחלה ר׳ אליעזר נכנסו תלמידיו לבקרו, אמרו לו: [רבינו] למדנו אורחות חיים…אמר להם…וכשאתם מתפללים דעו לפני מי אתה עומדים.” בְּרַכוֹת כח ב׳; אבות דרבי נתן, נוסחא א׳, פי״ט. עיין ארחות חיים לר׳ אליעזר הגדול, “י״ח: בני, כשתכנס לפני יוצרך תכנס באימה וביראה וכשאתה מתפלל דע לפני מי אתה עומד.”
  26. The sentence consists of three parts: The main verb in the imperative “know.” Dependent on this main verb is the clause “before whom you stand” which can be broken up into two segments, the adverbial phrase “before whom” which contains the interrogative pronoun and “you stand” which is the subject and verb of the subordinate clause.
  27. ”רבי אומר: תמה אני היאך בטלו חונן הדעת בשבת. אם אין דיעה – תפלה מניין?” ירושלמי בְּרַכוֹת לד ב׳, בְּרַכוֹת לט ב׳.
  28. Man Is Not Alone, p. 88.
  29. Man Is Not Alone, ch. 8 (The Ultimate Question).
  30. E. S. Ames, Religion, p. 217.
  31. Man is Not Alone, ch. 23.
  32. Significantly, prayers written in our time are essentially petitional. Prayers of praise often sound like self-praise.
  33. According to Rabbi Yose, “He who alters the form of benedictions fixed by the wise has failed to fulfil his obligations” (Berachoth 40b; Yerushalmi Berachoth VI, 2, 10b). Rabbi Meir declares it to he the duty of every one to say one hundred benedictions daily (Menahoth 43a, see Numbers Rabba XVIII).
  34. The contrast between order and outburst is made clear through the term קֶבַע‏ Shammai said; “Make your תּוֹרָה‏ (in the sense of legal decisions made by the scholar) קֶבַע‏ (a fixed thing),” Do not be lenient to yourself and severe to others, nor lenient to others and severe to yourself. See אבות, א, ט״ו and the explication in אבות דרבי נתן, p. 47, הוצאת שעכטער, נוסחא ב׳, פרק כ״ג. In contrast Rabbi Shimeon said: When you pray, do not make your prayer a fixed thing (אבות ב׳ י״ח) .(קֶבַע‏) Rabbi Eliezer said: He who makes his prayer a fixed thing (קֶבַע‏), his prayer is not an act of grace (מִשְׁנָה בְּרַכוֹת ד׳ ד׳).
  35. The polarity of prayer and the decision in favor of the element of בּוֹנֶה‏ is implied in the following discussion.
“איבעיא להו: טעה ולא התפלל מנחה. מהו שיתפלל ערבית שתים?….תפלה במקום קרבן היא. וכיון דעבר יומו בטל קרבנו. או דילמא כיון דצלותא רחמי היא. כל אימת דבעי מצלי ואזיל? תא שמע דאמר רב הונא בר יהודה אמר רבי יצחק אמר רבי יוחנן: טעה ולא התפלל מנחה מתפלל ערבית שתים. ואין בזה משום דעבר יומו בטל קרבנו.” בְּרַכוֹת כ״ו עמוד א׳.
  36. מִשְׁנָה תּוֹרָה, הלכות תפלה פ״ד, ה״ו.
  37. ”ודאי כל ענין התפלה אינו חובה כלל. אבל הוא ממדת חסד הבורא יתברך עלינו ששומע ועונה בכל קראנו אליו,” השגות הרמב״ן על ספר המצוות להרמב״ם, מצוות עשה ה׳.
  38. Isaiah 29:13.
  39. Deuteronomy 11:13
  40. Cf. עבודה זרה ,עבודת כוכבים.
  41. [מתני׳] האומר….[גמ׳…] מודים מודים משתקין אותו….אמר ליה רב פפא לאביי: ודלמא מעיקרא לא כוון דעתיה ולבסוף כיון דעתיה? אמר ליה: חברותא כלפי שמיא מי איכא?! אי לא כוון דעתיה מעיקרא, מחינן ליה במרזפתא דנפחא עד רמכוין דעתיה.” בְּרַכוֹת לג ב׳ – בְּרַכוֹת לד א׳.
  42. .בְּרַכוֹת ל״ב, א׳
  43. בחיי. פָּרָשַׁת עֵקֶב.
  44. בְּרַכוֹת ל׳ עמוד ב׳.
  45. A good illustration is the Rabbinical dictum, “אמר רב חנן בר רב: הכל יודעין כלה למה נכנסה לחופה. אלא כל המנבל פיו ומוציא דבר נבלה מפיו אפילו נחתם לו גזר דינו של שבעים שנה לטובה נהפך עליו לרעה.” כתובות ח׳ עמוד ב׳.
  46. [Paraphrasing the Maharal in Netivot, ch. 2] מהר״ל. נתיבות עולם, העבודה, פרק ב׳.
  47. ”כָּל־אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם לֹא תְעַנּוּן׃ אִם־עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ כִּי אִם־צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ׃” (שמות כב:כא-כב). כך אמר דוד: רבונו של עולם, אפילו רשע שבישראל כשיבא לקרוא לפניך ענה אותו מיד. אמר ליה הקדוש ברוך הוא: חייך, עד שלא יקראני עניתיו, שנאמר (תהלים נ:טו) וּקְרָאֵנִי בְּיוֹם צָרָה אֲחַלֶּצְךָ וּתְכַבְּדֵנִי, ואומר: יִקְרָאֵנִי וְאֶעֱנֵהוּ (תהלים צא:טו), ואומר: וְהָיָה טֶרֶם־יִקְרָאוּ וַאֲנִי אֶעֱנֶה (ישעיה סה:כד). ואף על פי כן צריך שתהא קריאתו באמת, שנאמר קָרוֹב ה׳ לְכָל־קֹרְאָיו (תהלים קמה:יח), יכול לכל? תלמור לומר לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאֻהוּ בֶאֱמֶת.” מדרש תהלים ד:ג.
  49. I am informed that a congregation listening to comments delivered before the הַבְדָּלָה‏ was told the following: “At the conclusion of the Sabbath, when the additional soul departs, one must be refreshed by smelling aromatic herbs, for at that moment, according to the זֹהַר‏, ‘the soul and spirit are separated and sad until the smell comes and unites them and makes them glad.’ However, this is, of course, not the true reason. The authentic origin of the ceremony is that in ancient times people ate a great deal on the Sabbath and a bad odor came out of their mouth. In order to drive out the odor, they used spices.”
  50. The usual translation “shall bless” totally misses the meaning of the passage.
  51. First blessing before the Shema
  52. Cf. רבינו יונה, ריש תפלת השחר.
  53. “Rabbi Hama ben Hanina and Rabbi Oshaya were strolling near the synagogue of Lud. Rabbi Hama boasted: “How much money have my ancestors invested in these buildings!” Rabbi Oshaya replied: “How many souls have they wasted here! Were there no students of Torah to support instead?” ¶Rabbi Abin donated a gate to the Great Synagogue. When Rabbi Mana came to him, he boasted: “Do you see what I have done?” Said Rabbi Mana: “’When Israel forgets its Creator, they build temples.’ (Hosea 8:14) Were there no students of Torah to support instead?” (שקלים ה׳, סוף).
  54. ‏”אמר הקב״ה לישראל אני אמרתי לך שתהא מתפלל בבית הכנסת שיש בעירך. ואם אין את יכול להתפלל בבית הכנסת, התפלל בתוך שדך. ואם אין את יכול להתפלל בתוך שדך, התפלל בתוך ביתך. ואם אין את יכול להתפלל בתוך ביתך, התפלל על מטתך. ואם אין את יכול להתפלל על מטתך, הרהר בליבך. הדא הוא דכתיב (תהלים ד:ה) אִמְרוּ בִלְבַבְכֶם עַל־מִשְׁכַּבְכֶם וְדֹמּוּ סֶלָה,” פסיקתא דרב כהנא כ״ד ד׳ וגם מדרש תהלים, ד׳ יא׳.
  55. יבמות ק״ה עמוד ב׳. עיין ראש השנה כ״ו עמוד ב׳: “בראש השנה כמה דכייף איניש דעתיה טפי מעלי” רש״י: “כמה דכייף איניש – בתפלתו, פניו כבושין לארץ טפי עדיף משום וְהָיוּ עֵינַי וְלִבִּי שָׁם (מלכים א׳ ט:ג)” .
  56. ”ולתפלה שליח צבור כוה כל הצבור מכוונין את לבם. והקדוש ברוך הוא מקבל תפלת” ר׳ ישראל אלנקאוה, מנורת המאור, חלק ב׳, עמוד 84.
  57. .מִשְׁנָה תּוֹרָה, הלכות תפלה פ״ד, המ״ז
  58. from the blessing over the study of Torah
  59. from the blessing for repentance/tshuva in the weekday Amidah
  60. While Heschel was trying to reinvigorate the American Jewish community, he was losing many friends from his Yiddish-speaking immigrant world. On 14 March 1953, Hayim Greenberg, editor of Yidisher Kemfer and Jewish Frontier, died at age sixty-three. On 31 March, Abraham Reisen, known as “the dean of Yiddish poets,” died at age seventy-seven. Reisen was born in Koidanov, Russia, the home of Heschel’s maternal relatives. In addition to these personal losses, Heschel was dismayed by the execution on 19 June of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage. The officiating rabbi at their funeral two days later was Abraham Cronbach, Heschel’s friend from Hebrew Union College.
  61. Heschel 1953, “The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” Proceedings 1953, 151. Heschel incorporated a revised version of the speech into chapter 3 of Man’s Quest for God, “Spontaneity is the Goal,” 49–89. All quotations in the text are from the original Proceedings version, which contains a number of Hebrew words, phrases, and quotations.
  62. A simplistic reading of Soloveitchik’s foundational essay, “Halakhic Man,” might suggest that it was only necessary to follow the rules; one did not have to strive for attachment to God: Soloveitchik 1983.
  63. In the printed version, Heschel referred in a footnote (Proceedings 153, 156n3) to Josiah Royce’s The Problem of Christianity (1913), rather than Kaplan’s Judaism as a Civilization (1934) when citing a Kaplanian axiom: God is a symbol of social action, “the spirit of the beloved community.”
  64. “A discussion of this view, which is so popular today, is found in I. [Joseph] Segond, La prière, étude de psychologie religieuse, Paris, 1911, p. 52”: Proceedings 1953, 158n7a.
  65. Heschel is referring to Joseph Zeitlin, Disciples of the Wise: The Religious and Social Opinions of American Rabbis (New York: Teachers Institute, Columbia University, 1945), 76. See also Proceedings 1953, 163: “Decisive is not the mystic experience of our being close to Him; decisive is not our feeling but our certainty of His being close to us.”
  66. Proceedings 1953, 164, citing Heschel’s footnote to Man Is Not Alone, chap. 23.

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