A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bob Freedman:
One of the tasks I set myself when I accepted this assignment was to prepare a kavannah, a prayer intention, for every Shabbat morning service. Then Covid happened. I'm still preparing my kavvanot, but the time of quarantine, not being able to daven with people around, has made me think even more about prayer. I'll share what I've been thinking with you.
I've mostly given up on asking God for stuff. Instead, I use the words of prayer to open myself up to what God might provide. I think of myself as a pitcher, or a coffee mug with a lid. In tractate Megilla we read, "A human of flesh and blood sets the pitcher in place, then brings water to fill the pitcher. God acts differently, making the water flow before providing the pitcher." It's a riddle. To answer it, focus on the water. God's immanence in the world is often characterized as flowing water, mayim hayyim, living water. Picture a faucet from which the flow of water just keeps coming with no interruption. In prayer I'm the pitcher, or the coffee cup. I position myself where I can be filled by whatever is pouring out of the faucet - water, coffee, lemonade - then I figure out what to do with it.
If instead I'm trying to persuade God to do something for me, I'm mostly focused on myself. My mind and heart are not open to what's coming out of the faucet. The cover stays on the mug and the coffee spills.
Speaking the words of the prayers is how I move myself into position under the faucet. Praise works well, as does giving thanks. They both open my heart. Study also works. I get excited when I learn and thoughts begin to spin in my head. I want to know more, so I open my mind even wider. Like a parachute, hearts and minds only work when they're open.
I'll give two examples. I say prayers for healing and for this current plague to ease. I don't know if my recital has a curative effect. I do know that when I say the words I get ideas about what I can do about the pandemic. I can visit the ill and ease their anxiety. I can support medical practitioners and researchers. I can share what I have with those who are suffering financial hardship because of the lockdown. I say these thoughts come from God. Others might say they came from my own brain. Both those statements are right. The act of prayer started the flow, the mayyim hayyim.
None of the blessings that we say at the beginning of Shabbat are petitions. When Erev Shabbat comes Sally and I recite them. For the whole week we've been looking forward to Shabbat relief. Watching the candles' flames float up and singing Kiddush are the final gentle nudges that edge us into Shabbat time. Putting a chunk of delicious hallah into my mouth confirms that I'm really there. I don't even think to ask God for anything more.
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.