Some of you may have missed “Finding Meaning in Terror,” my most recent post, if you receive notifications via email, since it appeared on the same day as an ad which appeared at the top of the email. Please be sure to check it out.
I know that previously, when posting thoughts of this nature, I’ve received some inquiries about the “avenge” piece, and this time was no different. In the chat box of a Words With Friends game, an acquaintance asked:
Now, I am not the biggest “pray-er.” I do take challah and pray for people on a regular basis, but I find that spontaneous prayer works better for me than reading psalms or formalized prayers. In the time that the boys were missing, what I saw in news, on social media, and in communities everywhere, was an incredible number of people praying, doing mitzvot and reading psalms, in the merit of the return of the boys. I saw the people of Israel, and so many of our friends, coming together – unified by our desire to see the boys home safe.
A friend pointed out all of the above and that we will never know how many lives have been saved by removing those threats.
Do you know someone who suffered in the past 17 days from something that could have been much worse and wasn’t? Do you know someone who walked away from something that should have killed them? Maybe they, and by extension, you, we, klal yisrael were the beneficiaries of that good outcome precisely BECAUSE we all showed such achdut and we all prayed and did mitzvot! This may not be the answer we wanted or expected but it is absolutely an answer!
Notice I cropped out the name and avatar of the asker but not the compliment (cough, cough).
So the question at hand is: when someone says, “Pray for me,” and you’re Jewish… well, what does that actually mean? How do you actually do that? I’ll add my own question, just to stir the pot. What do you do with those group texts and Facebook posts to pray for people? Do you truly pray for them all? Do you forward them all as requested? How do handle all this in the digital age?
First things first. There are multiple “right” ways to pray in Judaism. All are predicated on obtaining the person’s Hebrew name. That formulation is [Hebrew name] + [ben (for male)/bat or bas (for female)] + [mother’s Hebrew name]. If any of these are unknown, just use the names you know, intending that God will understand who you mean.
That said, here are some options in terms of prayer, listed in order from “beginner” to “advanced”:
1. Say a short prayer in English in your own words, and when you mention the person’s name, use the formulation above.
2. Say a short formal prayer using the person’s Hebrew name as formulated above.
3. Say a chapter of Tehillim / Psalms (or more if so inclined) – which chapters to say are highlighted in the link – in either English or Hebrew (preferably in Hebrew, even if you don’t understand the words), and when you are done, do #1. Next step would be committing to saying a chapter each day for that person.
4. Do #3, but follow up with #2 instead of #1.
5. When praying the formal Amidah prayer, either at home or at synagogue, include the person’s Hebrew name in the paragraph about healing.
Now let’s talk about name management. Here’s what I do, personally.
I have a notepad app on my phone, and whenever I get a name to pray for I add it to my app. I also note who the person is and where I got the name from so I can follow up. Praying indefinitely for people I don’t know and am not being updated on is hard for me. I have learned to transfer the list to paper that I keep near my prayerbook because when I’m praying (as in #5) I don’t want my phone out to check the names.
Which names get added? People that have a connection to those I know personally, I add to my list. Other names, such as texts and Facebook posts, I say a quick prayer (see #2) or chapter of psalms (#3) for and move on. I don’t forward such requests unless I know the sick person myself. This may be wrong of me, but otherwise there’s no end.
How do you pray?
It was toward evening in Rockville, Maryland as the second day of the conference progressed. Dinner was winding down and we anticipated a session from a woman who had sailed the Pacific for 2 years with her husband and two kids after he got laid off, followed by a “best practices” presentation by various city representatives. The evening would close with a soulful musical session of Jewish spiritual tunes.
There was a collective gasp that arose from the front of the room. I casually looked up, expecting the usual relieved laugh and “everyone’s okay” from the crowd.
It did not come.
Instead were swift shouts of “call 911!” “Is there a doctor??” “Is she OK?”
She was not OK.
A woman had leaned on a railing that overlooked a stairwell. The railing broke away from the floor and supporting wall, sending the woman down, down, down… panic, distress, and grief filled the air of that room.
Here’s what I know. I cannot help from a medical standpoint. And people in crisis will not improve with rubberneckers. So I did what I know how to do in a crisis: I prayed. I fished through my handbag for my prayerbook, flipped quickly to the back where the Book of Psalms is printed, and started saying whatever my eyes fell on. I don’t know what happened next, but someone gave me a microphone, directed the women away from the scene of the tragedy, and before I knew it, I was leading the group in saying Psalms, word by painstaking Hebrew word, phrase by painstaking phrase.
This group. Many had never prayed before. Many had no idea what we were saying, or why. I never lead groups in prayer without introducing, explaining, translating. But there we were, as the emergency crew arrived, as she was carried out, mercifully conscious, to the waiting ambulance, as people were instructed to move cars, to move away, we kept going, phrase by phrase, empowered by what we could do. Empowered by the strength in numbers. Empowered by our bond, our solidarity, from that moment of panic to that moment of doing. Empowered by doing just that, saying those words that were not understood but whose cadence reminded us of our common bond: Hebrew, though we may not understand it; spirituality, though our definitions of its expression may vary; care and concern for our fellow sister, though many of us had never even met her.
That moment was magical, transformational. Beauty in the midst of tragedy.
I know I shall never forget it.
Please spare a prayer, in whatever language you know, for Naomi bat Rosalia.
Assignment: Compare and contrast yoga and Orthodox Judaism.
The panelists are all familiar with both yoga and religious, observant Judaism. They are all friends of mine in real life. Some are highly trained yogis and others practitioners. Note: the ideas and opinions expressed below do not necessarily reflect my theology.
They’re the same, in that it’s morals and ethics. It’s more like Mussar (spiritual character development in Judaism). As far as Orthodoxy, yoga just uses different tools – poses, for example – for us to “practice” applying these morals and ethics (in yoga they’re called Yamas & Niyamas). Orthodoxy uses other practical tools – the 613 laws. Both are practices, and practical, and that’s why I like JFX (the Jewish Family Experience, our congregation) so much! We can always use more tools to help us be more mindful and inspired people:)
I think what is interesting about yoga poses – which most people consider “yoga” to be – is that they are not really about getting into shape. They are actually meant to prepare the body to be able to sit for long periods of time in spiritual quest (meditation etc). Judaism I am sure has methods to begin the process of getting us ready to enhance our connection with G-d through prayer.
I agree with Scott’s point about the yoga poses (asana practice) being intended to ready the body and mind for meditation, which can be, in some ways, likened to prayer. I also like Sandy’s point about both paths being moral and ethical guidelines for proper living. They can also both be seen as paths for spiritual growth and bringing one closer to one’s own potential.
I view the laws, mitzvot, as very present moment opportunities to connect to G-d. If one chooses to do them:). Ha. That’s why I think a lot people have connected so well into yoga – learning to integrate your upper arm bone into the shoulder socket properly in a weight bearing position (and other physical alignment hard rules), for example, may not seem very “spiritual” but to me, it’s integrating mind with body, helping the body to return to harmony – it should be considered spiritual. Alignment for me is respect for this amazing body and this is extremely spiritual. I am integrating it with its operating system (G-d?) with every move I make. I try anyway…that’s why we call it a yoga “practice” :).
Thoughts from the Facebook discussion:
Renee: I think a mindful yoga practice is a lot like living the Kabbalah. Technically if done properly, EVERYTHING one does is out f gratitude to G-d in both practices – so es, food choices are simple and prayers are offered; positive community; mind/body/spirit connection; ego not important; meditation several times a day…
Ariella: To be “good” at both you’ve got to be committed. Both are complicated.
Why? you may say.
The Yiddish word: shuckle.
Is there a Hebrew equivalent?
It’s how I saw people praying growing up.
I don’t know another way.
I’ve tried to stop.
It happens by itself.
Sometimes, the emotion of my words gets into my body and takes over.
Or, I’m thinking about my grocery list (oy!).
Then, the sway/pray wakes me up.
Think about where you are. (Not Heinen’s.)
Are you not ashamed
to be swaying
like a saint
when your mind
Close your eyes.
Sway. Be silent. Let your body remind your heart.
Be on the same page.
Words. Mind. Heart. Body.
Sway, and pray.
Or: pray, and sway.