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Parashat 10/19/2011

Parashat Bereishit

Submitted by Robert Rabinoff

In honor of the 40th anniversary of my starting the TM program, with thanks to Cathy Tepper.


All the vegetation of the field had not yet emerged in the land, and all the herbage of the field had not yet sprouted, because H” Gd had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no human to work the soil.  (2:5)

Why had Gd not caused it to rain?  Because “there was no human to work the soil.”  There was nobody who recognized the benefit of rain, but when Adam arrived he understood that it was necessary and he prayed for the rain and it fell… (Rashi ad loc)

Gd desires the prayers of the righteous (Yevamos 64a)

Directly after the Torah’s account of creation, we are introduced to humankind, and in doing so the Torah hints at our purpose on earth.  Apparently we are put here to pray!  What is the purpose of prayer – for us and for Creation?


As usual, I think that the answer is going to depend on our point of view.  There is a purpose to prayer from our point of view, and, as our Sages state, there is a purpose to prayer from Gd’s point of view.  We can get a sense of the purpose of prayer from our perspective by examining The Prayer par excellence, the amidah.  The structure of the amidah is as follows: the first three blessings are blessings of praise to Gd.  The last 3 blessings are blessings of thanksgiving for all Gd has given us – life, existence, and the ability to pray.  The middle blessings all are requests for sustenance and health, both personal and communal: for knowledge, for a living, for good health, for good government, etc.  This middle section, it appears, would correspond to Adam’s prayer for rain.  Both ask for the things necessary for life in the material world to function, and I think it also correlates well with the numerous verses in Torah that promise material well-being for obedience to Gd’s commands.  To the question why Torah doesn’t mention spiritual blessings for following Gd’s commands, our Sages reply that it is obvious that performing mitzvot, the ultimate purpose of which is to bring us closer to Gd, will have spiritual benefits.  What is less obvious is that our moral choices can affect the material world of wind and water, therefore Torah assures us that it does.


Now one should ask at this point, is the material world the be-all and end-all of life that we should spend our precious time davvenning for an easy, comfortable life?  Certainly the answer is no, it is not.  The physical body is nothing more than the housing for the soul, our inner essence.  This housing allows us to interact with the physical world and to bring it to perfection – that is, to reflect more and more Gd’s Perfection.  Each of us has our own individual role to play in this development, and we can play it best if we are not struggling simply to maintain the housing.  Significantly, an optional prayer for sustenance that is sometimes said in the amidah asks Gd to give us our allotted portion so that we may be engaged in Your Torah and perform Your ordinances and do Your Will.  In other words we ask for material benefits in order to be in a situation where we can grow spiritually.


It is a given in Jewish thought that whatever our situation, it is the perfect situation for us – it gives us exactly the right resources and the right challenges for us to grow spiritually, according to Gd’s perfect wisdom.  This being the case, how can it be that we are asking Gd for anything?  Surely Gd knows exactly what we need (not necessarily what we want, or think we want given our limited perspective) and is already seeing to it that we have it.  If we are healthy that is what we need.  If we have a lot of money, that is the challenge we need to meet.  If Gd forbid we are ill, the challenges are different.  Why would we pray for Gd to “change His Mind” if our situation is somewhat uncomfortable, or even extremely uncomfortable and dangerous?  The bigger the challenges, the greater the growth.  We should welcome challenges, perhaps especially if they get us out of our comfort zone!  We don’t ask our doctor not to give us a bitter pill if it will save our life!


The answer is, we don’t ask Gd to change.  Gd is unchanging; Torah tells us that “Gd is not like a man who changes his mind.”  Prayer does not work on Gd.  Prayer works on us.  When we pray, we connect ourselves to Gd, to the infinite, to the cosmic perspective.  Our mind expands as we begin, however faintly, to contemplate the world from this cosmic perspective.  Our hearts expand as we feel Gd’s love for us in every moment of our lives.  We relate to Gd differently, we relate to ourselves differently, we relate to the world around us differently.  Once we change, then what we need for our growth also changes.  As we expand and move ourselves out of our limited perspective, there is no longer the need for the same kind of challenges to get us out of our rutted thinking.  As we begin to question our assumptions about reality, and our perception and thinking comes more into conformance with the ultimate Reality, there is no longer any need for the various shocks and buffeting that are sometimes required to get us off dead center.  As the structure of our personality is able better to reflect Gd’s Majesty in the world, Gd has less and less need to tear us down in order to build us up anew.  As our individual will becomes more and more attuned to Gd’s Will, our requests become less and less of the nature of asking Gd to change things – rather they all become prayers of thanksgiving that everything in our lives is perfect just the way it is.


Gd apparently has a perspective on prayer as well.  Our Sages tell us that our Patriarchs and Matriarchs had trouble conceiving “because Gd desires the prayers of the righteous.”  In the same way, Gd did not automatically send rain for the grass and trees until Adam prayed for it.  I think to understand this phenomenon we have to understand Gd’s purpose in creating the universe to begin with.  Gd of course is completely Self-contained and Self-sufficient; Gd had no need to create.  The creation of a finite world, with its limitations and wants, gives Gd the opportunity to manifest His goodness, to fulfill the needs of all His creatures.


The greatest need of any finite being is to grow and expand and to approach the infinite, and the finite being most equipped to do this is humanity.  Humanity shares with Gd the quality of self-awareness, and it is this awareness that can become more and more refined and expanded, eventually reaching the state of pure awareness which is unbounded.  Once this happens the creation has come full circle, so to speak.  What started with pure, infinite and unbounded consciousness (Gd’s consciousness) has become finite and limited, and that finite and limited value of consciousness has expanded until it is once again infinite.  The wholeness of these two infinities along with the finite is greater than any of the parts; if we can even say it, it is as if Gd Himself has expanded to something greater.  This is what prayer can accomplish, and perhaps this is what our Sages meant when they said Gd “desires” the prayers of the righteous.  The universe is created with lacks and wants; be it infertility or poverty or whatever, it is the nature of the finite that it is limited.  Prayer is the means Gd gives us to overcome these lacks, and in so doing bring fulfillment to ourselves and, as it were, fulfillment to Gd.


We have just come through a three-week period of intensive prayer, reflection, and inspiration to improve ourselves.  Perhaps we came to the conclusion that prayer is something for the individual to grow in his or her devotion to the Creator.  Our Parashah shows us that it is much more than just that – it is a cosmic force that Gd built into the very structure of creation.  Without it, creation can not fulfill its destiny.  With it, we become partners with Gd in establishing all of life on the level of infinite happiness.


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