These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

The Unattainable Prayer

Posted on September 26, 2011 by Shibley

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The lead-up to Rosh Hashana is in full swing, slichot start in a few hours. Each morning except for Shabbat and erev Rosh Hashana we have heard, and will hear the blats of the shofar, it awakenings us, and reminding us of the importance of the upcoming days. Aside from intensifying the tshuva process, that I think begins in the middle of the summer with the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, there is an understandable temptation to pray for blessings in the new year.

I don’t want to discourage anybody from approaching Gd in prayer, not in the least. I would however, just offer a word of guidance to everybody, myself included. Prayers for the unattainable and unrealistic should be closely examined. In my experience, I have fallen into the trap of praying for something that was beyond realistic, and then been distraught after my unrealistic prayers went unanswered. My fear is that by pouring out my soul for something that is utterly unattainable, or even impossible, I am damaging my long-term prayer prospects by setting myself up for failure, turning myself off to future opportunities to approach Gd. In communal prayer, we do not ask for rain in Israel in the summer because we know that rain would be extremely dangerous at that time of year, and because rain does not fall in the summer. I suppose that helps clarify my point slightly.

So where’s the balance? Obviously only an individual can know. I think that by approaching tfillot with a kaved rosh (seriousness), it is easier to prevent prayers from running rampant to those that will likely never be fulfilled. With seriousness and forethought we can push the boundaries in our prayers, making them personal and attainable. Although I am backtracking slightly, I do not think that praying for the unrealistic is inherently bad, just that it carries significant dangers.

I wish everybody a meaningful journey in prayer, however that manifests in our collective heart of hearts.