Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prayer is only complete with the realization that the soul is in a constant state of prayer; she takes flight and seeks her Beloved continuously. During actual prayer, the constant soul prayer is revealed. This is the glory of prayer. - Rav Kook, Olat RAYaH (Introduction) 
Thus, when a person prays, he must acknowledge that it is not his physical self (that is, the animal soul that is full of desire) that engages in prayer, but rather his Godly soul which is a portion of God Himself that prays...[W]hen he accomplishes this, he is 'greeting the Divine Presence'. - Rav Shneor Zalman of Liadi, Likutei Torah: Shir HaShirim chapter II
Such a beautiful way of understanding tefillah. According to the Ba'al HaTanya, a prerequisite to achieving true dveykut and performing the service of prayer properly is understanding that every Jewish soul finds its source in Knesset Yisrael, where the concept of distinction, of separation does not exist. At the level of Knesset Yisrael, there is no differentiation; separation between Jews is a corollary of our physical, mundane existence, reflected in the dichotomous nature of our inner existence on this plane as a hybrid of lofty spirit and base physicality.

By recognizing that the essence of prayer is this soul prayer that the Alter Rebbe and his descendant Rav Kook refer to, we unlock the secret to meaningful, passionate prayer. Only when we come to a visceral knowledge that we are inextricably bound to one another, as various appendages on one body, can we begin to recognize our soul's constant, rapturous prayer.

This is one of the most difficult challenges I face on a daily basis. Although I strive constantly against this, my natural inclination is to see the negative side of many things - this is never so true as when it comes to judging my brethren. What compounds this difficulty is the fact that I am struck by my own hypocrisy when I falter and look down on my minyan-mates: am I truly any better? I know the answer is no, not when it comes to matters of prayer, nor for any other element of Judaism, for that matter.

Since getting married, it's been better, at least as far as Shacharit is concerned - at least then I can cover my face in a way that my tallit obstructs my view of what's happening around me. But at any other tefillah, it is a constant struggle. A struggle not to look in the first place; if I do look and see something that I perceive as wrong, a further struggle not to judge unfavorably; and finally a struggle to accept them as my own flesh and blood, even when I can't find a way to judge them favorably, despite my ill conceived perceptions. Learning about this element of tefillah has helped me look past the "wrongdoing" that I think I see sometimes among my coreligionists towards a more balanced, accepting perspective.

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