Thursday, March 19, 2009

Uninterrupted Speculation And Prayer.

In the previous post I pointed out that in our lifelong search for HKBH, constancy is crucial. The search has to be ongoing and the more a person can train himself to focus on understanding the world in context of it being Gods’ creation, the better are the chances of finding Him. As I discussed at the beginning of my series on prayer, Rambam’s Sefer Ahavah, the second of the 14 books of MT, deals with Mitzvot that are meant to train us to be always focused on this issue. In fact, Sefer Ahavah is introduced with a verse in Tehilim 119:97

מה אהבתי, תורתך:
כל היום, היא שיחתי

O how love I Thy Torah! It is my meditation all the day.

The Mitzvot in this sefer are a tool to train us to meditate all day about Torah. Torah in this context includes all sciences and metaphysics, in addition to what is traditionally considered Torah namely Halacha. (Read carefully Hil Talmud Torah 1:11-12. I will discuss this in a separate post).

“I will now commence to show you the way how to educate and train yourselves in order to attain that great perfection.The first thing you must do is this: Turn your thoughts away from everything while you read Shema or during the Tefilah, and do not content yourself with being devout when you read the first verse of Shema, or the first paragraph of the prayer. When you have successfully practiced this for many years, try in reading the Law or listening to it, to have all your heart and all your thought occupied with understanding what you read or hear. After some time when you have mastered this, accustom yourself to have your mind free from all other thoughts when you read any portion of the other books of the prophets, or when you say any blessing; and to have your attention directed exclusively to the perception and the understanding of what you utter. When you have succeeded in properly performing these acts of divine service, and you have your thought, during their performance, entirely abstracted from worldly affairs, take then care that your thought be not disturbed by thinking of your wants or of superfluous things. In short, think of worldly matters when you eat, drink, bathe, talk with your wife and little children, or when you converse with other people. These times, which are frequent and long, I think must suffice to you for reflecting on everything that is necessary as regards business, household, and health. But when you are engaged in the performance of religious duties, have your mind exclusively directed to what you are doing.
When you are alone by yourself, when you are awake on your couch, be careful to meditate in such precious moments on nothing but the intellectual worship of God, namely to approach Him and to minister before Him in the true manner which I have described to you--not in hollow emotions. This I consider as the highest perfection wise men can attain by the above training.”
(MN 3:51)

Prayer thus is seen as training for meditation as is “reading the Law or listening to it”. It is however not just meditation at intervals but training for uninterrupted speculation about God and His ways trying to come as close as possible to the paradigm of human perfection, Moshe Rabbeinu.

But I think there is much more to it. After introducing the Tefilah (when I use “Tefilah” here I refer to the Amidah- the 19 Berachot of the Shemona Esreh) with the three blessings of praise, we enumerate all the daily human endeavors, whether personal or communal. The idea is to acknowledge and remind ourselves when we do things in our material existence that they ultimately can be traced back to HKBH, the First Cause. It tells us to act with that in mind trying to see everything we do in context of the bigger picture, as it fits into God’s world and how we understand it operates according to His will, to the best of our knowledge. Our religion is action oriented and even metaphysical speculation has to be translated into practical acts. We therefore are supposed to operate on two parallel tracks – meditation and responsible actions. The problem is that just as difficult as finding God is, so too is it difficult to know how to act to fulfill His will. Self-doubt and constant reevaluation is the lot of someone who wants to serve HKBH by being a responsible component of His universe. Thus, the first Bracha of Supplication, the fourth Bracha of the Shemona Esreh, acknowledges that our human mind is Gods’ gift to us followed by an acknowledgement of its limitations and the need for constant reevaluation, namely repentance. One has to constantly question his actions and look at them to make sure they are correct. Unfortunately, we humans never know for sure what is correct. Our outlook is so short term. A lifetime is short term in the eternal context as are many lifetimes. We therefore acknowledge that and ask to be forgiven if we erred looking towards repairing our mistakes. It is only after this mindset that we can deal with our daily life, redeeming, healing, feeding, independence, justice etc…

To me this is what meaningful prayer is. The real difficulty is to take this with you for the rest of the day when we act. Even with the three daily prayers, reminders of all these ideas, how many times do I think about these things when I act? Far too few.

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