art by Laya Crust, inspired by Ben Shahn
Rosh HaShana is a day of deep prayer and meditation- as well as an opportunity to connect with family and friends. Put another way, the time of prayer allows us to connect with ourselves and then connect with others. The Shabbat between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva- a Sabbath of return.
The Haftarah for Shabbat Shuva begins, “Return o Israel unto the Lord your God…” Within the haftarah we are told to blow the shofar, and gather together.
I’ve been thinking about the act of personal prayer and our place in society and the world. Much of the New Year and Day of Atonement is spent in personal prayer. What do we get out of personal prayer? What are the benefits?
On the first day of Rosh HaShana we read the story of Hanna, a childless woman who goes to the Temple and prays silently, moving her lips, but making no sound.
Hanna was the first person in Jewish text who prayed silently. She expressed her thoughts to God, conversing with God and stating her needs and desires. Hanna must have been a person who knew herself well. She did something unconventional and clarified her personal path to allow herself to go forward.
We live during a time that is full of natural disasters, spiritual disasters, leadership disasters and international tragedy. It’s possible that the world has ever been thus, but with the existence of internet, twitter, skype, cell phones, and immediate news we are aware of the international calamities immediately. The fascism and racism exposed in Charlottesville and the genocide in Myanmar are but two of the horrific “human rights abuses” (understatement if there ever was one)currently taking place in the world. The global peace watchdog- the UN is a disaster. The forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides and droughts are all natural disasters that have destroyed lives and communities around the world- all disasters we have witnessed in the last couple of months. It is very difficult for some of us to know what to do, how to respond to these world crises both man made and natural.
It makes me think of another narrative in the bible.
Elijah was a prophet who was being hunted down by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Although God told him to face his accusers Elijah decided to hide in a cave on Mount Horev in order to avoid his dangerous and overwhelming realities. God finally tells Elijah to step out of the cave. First a huge, violent wind comes by, breaking the mountains and rocks. Then after the wind there was an earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire. God was not in any of those forces. After the fire there was a still, small voice, and God was in that voice. At that point Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle , stood in the entrance of the cave , and “behold, there came a voice to him.” (Kings I 19: 13) The voice was the voice of God.
This story encompasses my thoughts about prayer and personal prayer.
Each of us is a compilation of experiences. Within our psyche we carry the lessons we have learned from parents, grandparents, teachers, wise individuals, illnesses and events we have experienced. We carry ethical truths based on what we have learned. Those ethical truths are God’s voice. It is the still small voice that speaks to us and can help us unravel difficulties that we face in a day or in our lives.
It is a thought I will take with me. As I enter synagogue to pray or meditate, like Hanna I will focus on my own prayers rather than pose for others. As the shofar is blown I will hear that pure, unusual call and know it is calling all Jews from every corner of the world. When I am distressed by the earthquakes and fires and hurricanes I will listen to the still small voice and work out how I am able to best help and contribute to making the world a better place.
May you have a meaningful Rosh HaShana, May your year be one of health, peace, tranquility, and goodness throughout the world.
Shana Tova, Laya