Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hineni- On tefillah as an offering

I was wrong.

In my attempt to get comfortable with the challenges of davening, I wrote something talking about viewing God as a friend or beloved, when one prays. Although a number of people, liked what I wrote, my friend Daniel Schwartz, who, not so coincidentally, is a chazzan, was having none of it. He suggested that my idea was counter to the idea of tefillah, where we beseech our Creator. Although I and some friends pushed back, both conceptually and textually, I now believe that Daniel was correct. If we are to daven, we have to be honest about what we are doing.

I recently finished Moshe Halbertal’s book “On Sacrifice”. In the first half of the book, Halbertal brilliantly explains the Jewish concept of korbanot, as well as the substitutes which arose after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Central to his approach is the idea of korbanos as offerings. Unlike relationships with equals where one has no reason to wonder whether their gift will be accepted, and, potentially, reciprocated, when it comes to our hierarchical relationship with God, we can have no such expectation. Halbertal uses the story of Kayin and Hevel to demonstrate that, on some basic level, we have no idea why our petitions to God may not be accepted. Inherent in our turning to God, is the recognition that, not only might our prayers not be effective, but that we have no way of knowing why.

So now what? For me at least, the challenge is to live within this discomfort, rather than ignoring it, or, worse, pushing it off with trite explanations. What mitigates it slightly for me, is something I saw from Rav Tzadok. After discussing Rambam’s famous explanation for why we have korbanos, he suggests that the challenge is to move away from the pagan idea of placating, or bribing the gods. Whether through sacrifice, or through prayer, we give God nothing. Rav Tzadok explains that the value of our tefillos is not what we give, nor is it what we get. It is what we put into it. In sincerely reaching out to God, we have the benefit of connecting to God. Amidah Linei HaMakom is its own reward.

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