Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Tetzevah

Prayer is a most important part of my existence. My tradition has a fairly set liturgy for morning, afternoon, and evening prayer services. Growing up in a fairly “conservadox” community, I never quite understood how people could sing-song their way through what seemed to be a 40-page service in 15 minutes or less. As I grew, I learned that some had really memorized the prayers and sang them from memory. Others read selected pieces while making their way through the rubrics of the service. Admittedly, there were many more (including me), who simply stood there moving and making noise to “look” like we know what we are doing. When I got thrown out by the Rabbi, I was almost relieved that I didn’t have to pretend any more.

It was not until many years later that I learned I was partially right in what I thought, but I had missed the entire point … prayer. I really cannot tell you whether or not the people I remember were actually praying, but I believe that more felt engaged in ways I did not previously understand and benefited greatly from the experience. Certainly, many were just going through the motions, and they got just that much out of the experience. As I thought about preparing this week’s commentary, the last verse of the portion spoke to me.

In the midst of discussing the High Priest’s routine responsibilities at the altar, Torah intersects what might have been a parenthetical or footnote. At Exodus 30:10, God instructs Aaron to sprinkle bloom on the altar once a year for Yom Kippur. No segue takes us from the regular routine to this once-a-year instruction. The text just switches years into this new “one off.”

The sages argue that this verse speaks allegorically more than in actuality. In essence, they argue that Torah makes the case that every time the Priest went to the altar, it was as if it were Yom Kippur, the holiest time he would ever approach God in “worship.”

For each of us, every time we pray should be the holiest time we have ever prayed. Prayer is not about the words one utters. Prayer really has nothing to do with pronouncing them correctly in whatever language one speaks. Prayer has everything to do with the intention of the heart. Prayer involves the synergy of the best of everything each of us has to offer. Prayer is the union of the forces of good and love that carry such magnetism that heaven and earth become inseparable. Every time one prays, it should be with a brand new intention; enough intention that his/her heart feels moved to act and react in new ways once emerging from prayer. As tradition teaches us, every day is Yom Kippur. With each day, we get a chance to start over and renew our commitment to healing the world. In each opportunity, we find the power and potential of prayer.

Next time someone says, “Let us pray,” pay attention. I am convinced that many do so out of rote practice. Too often, as I noted above, I have concerns over whether or not folks really pay attention. Many certainly do, and for each of us, it is a call to action. Whatever language one uses in prayer, if it comes from the heart, it will translate to another heart. It is the everyday “Yom Kippur” offering of the Priest. For those “going through the motions,” I pray that they find themselves an inner voice with which to focus on their own ability to meaningfully pray. Shabbat Shalom.