Off the Pulpit: A New Year of Prayer
By RABBI DAVID WOLPE
Those who are new to traditional Jewish prayer often hear it as a parade of gibberish. There are moments when the congregation sings together but then it is like boxers retreating to their corners, each becoming newly occupied with his or her own stream of chants or mumbles.
Rabbi Simon Greenberg used to say that Jews pray alone together. Individual hearts, each with its own sorrows and dreams, also join in a collective aspiration that takes flight at certain moments in the service. Mumbling, although it is the recitation of words, is closer in sound to the babbling of a child. Yet babbling is understood and cherished by the parent. Similarly we may not be sure of what we wish to say and still feel God understands.
Jewish prayer asks us to be disciplined with abandon. There are formulas, but the heart is set free and even within the confines of a brief service travels to far regions before returning home.
We pray not to bend God to our wishes, but to elevate our wishes to God. We pray to seek what is better and to be better.
(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)