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And Abraham Approached
"shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly", he asked g-d
October 7th, 2023 changed everything. In an slow instant my vision of humanity + religion transformed. I reached an uncomfortable point, where the search for g-d takes me away from the religious answer I thought I had found. The answer lies in the journey not in the man-made pit stops we create along the way to appease our ego. Conquesting religions do not have the answers to g-d. They never did, they only had the answers to conquest. Conquesting religions used g-d in a bid for world domination. So, no sooner did I admit to myself and the universe that I did not know and that the answer exists in that not knowing, I began to see signs … I began to see the divine in the most unexpected places. The Substack algorithm showed me a course about prayer from Rabbi Shnaytor Burton.
What is prayer? How does prayer work? Why do we prayer? Do we pray for ourselves? For g-d? If g-d knows and provides and sees and thinks of all, then why do we need to pray?
I listened to Rabbi Burton’s lecture on tefillah. Then I wondered about the etymology of the word tefillah.
AlephBeta website :: Tefillah (Heb. תפילה; te-feel-ah) is the Hebrew word for prayer. The word itself contains a range of meanings. The Hebrew root פלל connotes “executing judgement” (Exodus 21:22) or “thinking” (Genesis 48:11). In this sense, the word להתפלל, to pray, may also refer to a process of accounting or contemplation.
Chabad website :: The human being has three modi operandi, namely action, speech and thought. Mitzvot principally occupy our modality of action, while Torah is most concerned with speech—articulating G‑dly thoughts in human words. The core of tefillah, on the other hand, is our mode of reaching deeper and yet deeper into our inner thoughts, and finding within them G‑d Himself.
Mesora website :: The word Tefillah comes from the word “peelayle” which means to judge, as the above author in the Otzar Hatefillos says, “to clarify the thoughts that occur in the heart in a confused manner.” This is derived from the second term for Tefillah “sichah” from Genesis 24:63 regarding Issac’s prayer. The third change takes place when man, through his free will and creativity, presents before God an alternative life style, a change in his or her plans, as Hannah did when she stated to God (Samuel 1:11) “If you will... give to your handmaid a man child then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” This is derived from the third term for prayer, “pegiah” from Genesis 28:11 regarding Jacob’s prayer. Tefillah is the great medium, which God gave to man by means of which he can change himself. He can then establish a new destiny for himself in life and a new relationship with God. It is not the Creator that changes. Man does not influence the Creator as a defendant influences a human judge who has emotions and is subject to change. It is man himself who is changed. Once he has changed the same immutable Creator relates to him in a different way.
What does this mean?
I thought about this in the larger context of the 3 Abrahamic religions and the paths to g-d they have carved into human society. In the religion of my upbringing, Catholicism, I learned about prayer as prier (French word for prayer), a request to g-d, an inferior asking a superior for a favour or for grace, an inferior offering praise + glory to The One. Then I decided to explore Islam, in which prayer happens with the entire body 5 days a day and not just once a week or once a day. Salah, the Islamic word for prayer, being one of the 5 pillars of Islam, which means an inferior submitting to g-d.
So far I have described prayer as a request line to g-d and prayer as a enslavement to g-d and prayer as a glorifying of g-d. Where does g-d enter into prayer in making a demand for myself about myself or submitting myself to Him as a slave? That seems self indulgent to me — why does prayer focus on me if it is supposed to be a path to Him? Don’t I need to forget myself, my small worldly self, in order to find g-d? Making g-d a request line, a far removed thing to glorify, a slave master — these visions and paths to g-d impose human limits on g-d - they presume to make g-d serve human need for morality. This makes g-d submissive to the human ego and will, in my view. I think that this eliminates g-d from our vision when we focus on our righteousness amongst men and not on seeking g-d.
The biggest realisation for me this year exists in these words :: G-d [יהוה] exists only in my seeking of Him. This simple complexity has unfolded itself over a period of many months in 2023, beginning with the Peshawar mosque bombing and continuing with that stunning photograph of the Supreme Ayatollah of Iran surrounded by a sea of little girls in pink chadors, and then culminating in the horrific Simchat Torah Massacre. I did not find g-d in Catholicism. I did not find g-d in Islam. Well, I found g-d in Catholicism to the degree that my mother came closest to representing g-d on earth. He does not exist as a destination, He exists as a connection to myself and the world around me. G-d exists as a path to oneself and the deeper mysteries of thought and not as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. He does not live in any book, He lives in the hearts of humans. G-d lives in a bumble bee and a humble beggar asking for alms. G-d exists in the smartest theorems that seek to unlock the mysteries and He exists in the most humble task that I do in physical caring for another human being. G-d lives in the things I do, in response to life. As long as I keep moving and seeking, g-d remains with me .
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