Sunday, November 05, 2006

From MM - Parashat Lech-l'cha: The Work of the Heart

The Work of the Heart

Sometimes we understand something only because we've personally gone through it. I think I have such a case here. Let's look at Genesis 15:2 and 3. I don't know if you listened to the Tora reading, because when you hear it it's hard to miss. Both sentences start with "And Abra(ha)m said" and that's not how a dialogue normally goes. Normally a happening is retold as: A said, and then: B said, and then A again, etc.

Not that such repetitions are completely unusual in the Tora. We also find it in Genesis 30:27-8 and Exodus 1:15-6. But those cases are completely different from our case at hand. First of all in these two latter cases people talk to people, but in our Portion Abra(ha)m talks to G^d. Furthermore: in the first of the other cases two different things are said, and in the second case the first thing said is left out and not reported, while in our Reading Abra(ha)m's words are meticulously reported. Lastly: in those other cases a villain talks (Laban or the king of Egypt) explaining an evil plot. Contrary to popular belief you can't expect a natural dialogue from liars. This can obviously have nothing to do with Abra(ha)m speaking.

When you look at the two verses Abra(ha)m is saying, he's basically saying the same - only the second time it's more polite and calm. And he's talking to G^d - he's praying! In the first verse Abra(am) is pouring out his heart. Heart rendering what he says. That's what one does in prayer. The printed words of the Prayer book are just to facilitate this. What happens between these two verses is that the first one makes Abra(ha)m burst into tears. That's what happens when you speak your heart to our Father in Heaven - or anyone else who listens well, for that matter. (If it doesn't happen we haven't done it. Looking at our watch during prayers generally doesn't help with this.) After expressing genuine emotion and crying, people feel completely different. Our thoughts are different, our awareness has changed. If you then continue talking you talk differently. G^d doesn't always talk to us, not because He doesn't care, Heaven forbid, but so that He doesn't rob us from a good opportunity to cry. Often He doesn't say a word to let us cry and heal. So when Abra(ha)m rephrased his heartache he was surprised
(verse 4) to get an answer.

When we pray, our focus should be on sincerely speaking our mind - not on being answered. We are commanded to pray. He will only answer when it's best for us. By the way: an answer doesn't have to be a deafening, booming Heavenly voice. It wouldn't surprise me if in most cases it would just be what Abra(ha)m got here: "look at that: G^d's word came to him." And the whole thing was provoked by that G^d told him in the first verse not to worry. When we're in trouble and then told by a friend that all will be fine, that is the best invitation to pour out our heart. And that is one of the functions of our beautiful Prayers. Not to pacify us, but to provoke us into unburdening our heavy hearts, so that we after that can live our lives happily, calmly, easily and in zest. For that we need to really read what it says in the Prayers. It's worth the trouble, I tell you.

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