One of the things I noticed when praying Shachrit the other day is the nature of the prayers. The great majority of them tend to be prayers of thankfulness and acknowledgement of Hashem’s grace, power, knowledge and watching over us. Many of the prayers end with the acknowledgement of G-d bringing us, his chosen people, out of the bondage of Egyptian slavery to be our G-d.
Consider that many people pray because they want something. People typically pray for good or better health, more wealth or prosperity, or guidance to navigate life’s problems. Many people also only start praying when there’s an emergency and things seem very challenging.
Having said that, there are personal prayers at the beginning of the Shachrit (morning) service. These are prayers that acknowledge G-d for having done things for us, like giving us guidance, strength and good health. There are also prayers asking for us to not come in contact with obstructions or negative situations or people.
Many people seek spirituality because of life’s challenges. They are looking for personal guidance to help them succeed and overcome problems. They want something that will basically tell them what to do in times of trouble.
It would seem as of Judaism is lacking in this. While we can look for some of these messages in our daily liturgy and some comfort in some of the psalms and proverbs. People can also look toward the Talmud; while it is a compendium of Jewish laws or halacha, there are some parts of it that have personal application. They’re not so evident, however, they need to be searched out.
This is probably why a lot of people, Jewish people especially, are investigating Kabbalah. They see that it is involved in Jewish “mysticism” and deduce that it has the answers to life’s tough questions as well as, as one would expect, the answers. They feel that the wisdom of life is there, but it is couched in mystery. All we have to do is figure out the magic formula based on some combination of Hebrew letters or words and voila, all your cares and troubles vanish.
Such couldn’t be further from the truth of traditional Judaism. If nothing else, we have 613 commandments. A “commandment” is to DO something. Judaism is a philosophy of action. The commandments tell us how to behave, when and where. They tell us what to do an what not to do. Very simple.
Yet those prayers, which are really religious affirmations, are very broad. They address concepts and attributes of Hashem, such as mercy, power, and justice. There are also psalms of praise for Hashem.
The real question, then, is what do we do with this? How do we apply them to our own lives? How do find comfort in these prayers and most important, how do we use them as guidance?
Ultimately, that’s really all there is. Some may find it frustrating, but it is quite simple. We just go with the program.
The frustration is involved because we as humans can be quite insecure about our lives and the decisions we make. How do we behave in a job or a relationship that gives us no satisfaction?
The answer is really quite simple. This is why we study Torah. There is probably no question or concern that we have that the Torah doesn’t answer or address. The bottom line is that it is about doing what we are supposed to be doing by following the teaching of Hashem.
The prayers, then, are really for comfort while we are living. Perhaps we are in a trying situation and need a resolve. Hashem acts in a perfect timing that may elude us. So while we are waiting for the resolution, the prayers are there to give us comfort.
In the final analysis, it is really quite simple. We adhere to the commandments which tell us how to live a righteous life; we wear the tzitzi and tefillin and put mezuzot on our doorposts as reminders to keep doing it; and we pray for the daily comfort and reinforcement that Hashem has our backs.