Selichos

For the first time this year, I am starting my Selichos before Rosh Hashanah. I started last night after sundown, calculating that this would give me 7 full days of prayer before the start of the New Year.

What a powerful experience. Without making a pledge or vow, I’ve got a feeling I’m going to make this a tradition for Elul going forward.

Advertisements

A Parent’s Prayer

As graduation nears and so many of us will be witnessing our children undergo a rite of academic passage, and as Shavuot nears, it is a great time to say the Parent’s Prayer, Tefillas HaShelah.

The wonderful people at ArtScroll offer a downloadable, printable version here for your reference.

Free Download: A Parent’s Prayer {Tefillas HaShelah)

Enjoy, and may your children ever be a source of joy and nachas!

Facing the Crisis

Last week, on my way to pick up my son at the school bus stop, and just as we were approaching sundown on Friday night, I was again reproaching myself for not being shomer Shabbos. As I mulled that – or even began to – I heard a voice: “what if all of this is a lie?

“What if we, for whatever reasons, have simply been brainwashed,” it continued. “What if this – all religion – is just a big illusion that we have created for ourselves, a super-Disneyesque consensual fantasy that we have just willed into being?”

How seductive, nay, beguiling, a thought it was. I was washed over with the sense that a great burden of guilt, reproach, and angst was being lifted from me.

Then I heard another voice inside as I passed the little school on Pierpoint. “That, surely, is the Yetzer Hara whispering lies again. A crafty one he is.”

Then the first voice spoke again. “What a clever ploy, this while the idea of a ‘yetzer hara.’ With a single idea, we have automatically disqualified any rational challenge to G-d’s existence.

I quieted then. And came the second voice. “But if rationality is a human construct, is it the only framework with which to apprehend the world? Is it even the best? And have there not been a long line of thinkers reaching into antiquity who have addressed that question?”

It was but one brick yanked out of a large wall of doubt, but it was enough to deconstruct – or begin the slow collapse – of the wall. At that moment, my crisis of faith began to pass, just in time for my son to climb into the car, and for us to head home for salmon and Shabbos.

Facing Anger

On the eve of Yom Kippur, as I walked from my hotel to Beis Chabad, I felt the presence of Hashem in a remarkable way. I was filled with joy but not terribly surprised. It was, after all, Yom Kippur, the email flow had moderated to a tiny trickle, and it was a comfortable – if not glorious – Fall afternoon. I felt peace with Hashem and the universe, and nothing interfered with what felt like a direct signal to Him, though I could still feel a distance.

The feeling stayed with me until I was suddenly distracted by the driver of a large, luxurious BMW who had parked athwart the walkway in such a manner as to force me into dangerous traffic on my walk. I felt a shot of fury.

I quickly shook the fury off, but the connection with Hashem was no longer as clear.

It hurt. Almost physically.

The lesson could not have been more plain to me at that moment. We are instructed by Torah, the Sages, and the Chofetz Chayyim to refrain from speaking words of baseless hatred. But if we truly desire a connection with the Divine, we must recognize that angry thoughts, the very emotion of hatred, invites the yetzer hara and displaces the Holy Spirit.

Lesson learned. But it gets better.

Sitting in the Sukkah on the first night of Sukkoth, Rabbi Shimon Freundlich stood and gave a talk about anger. He said to us almost exactly what I felt on Erev Yom Kippur, but he went even further: when we get angry at our situation, we are fundamentally questioning the way G-d has made things to be. Anger is, therefore, is Chillul Hashem, a desecration of the name of Hashem.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. There are, after all, no coincidences.

I felt the connection anew. And I heard the Admonishment of Heaven.

I’m heading back to my hotel now, and I’m going to spend some time this evening studying the story of Moshe Rabbeinu striking a rock. Perhaps this is the lesson Hashem wishes me to learn this year.

America’s Choice

My wife and my 14 year-old son were discussing the election yesterday. And my wife said that this proves that we cannot put our faith in man or in Earthly institutions. We must put our faith in Hashem. 

She’s right. And it reminded me of a passage from the Tachanun:

And David said to Gad, “I am exceedingly distressed. Let us fall into Hashem’s hand, for His mercies are abundant, but let me not fall into human hands.”

We can trust people to represent us, but we cannot trust them to always have our best interests at heart, and, indeed, about all we can expect is for them to operate in the self-centered manner that economists call “rational.”

Do not put your faith in your leaders, elected or otherwise. Grant them a highly conditional trust at the very most.

Prayer Our Way

Here is what the Christian Gospels have to say about prayer:

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” [Matthew 6:5-6]

Jewish law and tradition holds that while all prayer is good, praying as a part of a minyan, a group of 10 or more, is an act of special holiness. Not everyone who prays in the presence of others is a hypocrite, and not everyone who prays alone is holy.