Finding My Place
A crab emerging from the sea was foraging on some beach. A starving fox, when he caught sight of the crab, ran up and seized him. The crab, on the verge of being gobbled up, said, “I deserve my misfortune, because, though a sea creature, I wished to become a land animal.”
Thus those people who leave their own customary pursuits and set their hands to matters alien to themselves usually suffer disaster.
– Aesop, Fables 118
Shall I enter synagogue for my prayers as one who is entering a different world, or as one who brings his world with him? If the world of the synagogue is a world alien to me, am I apt to suffer disaster? If I regularly pray, but have been taught that I must pray with more intention and passion, unfamiliar practices for me, shall I step onto the foreign terrain?
Should I desire to change and grow so that I can become familiar with new worlds? Shall I pray as I am, without risking the pretense of being someone I am not?
Someone described, in hindsight, his previous Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur experiences as not much better than the crab. He wanted to pray the way he saw his rabbi pray. He emerged from the sea to pray as a new person, but was devoured by the experience. It swallowed him up, and when he stepped out of the Days of Awe, he looked back at himself only to see a stranger.
I commented that there is a significant difference between striving to become someone else and reaching to become a higher version of myself.
The Sages teach that Peninah purposely provoked Chana in order to motivate the childless woman to pray harder. If Chana wasn’t praying harder, perhaps she didn’t feel desperate. Did Peninah want Chana to become desperate, just so that she would pray? Ironically, her magisterial prayer was instigated by Elkanah’s opposite approach: “Why are you sad? Am I not better for you than ten sons?”
Peninah’s desperation was ineffective. Elkanah’s strategy of, “My love for you is enough,” instigated one of the most powerful prayers in the Bible.
Peninah wanted Chana to become someone she was not. Peninah felt that her co-wife should be desperate to become a mother. There must be something wrong with her if she is not desperate. Chanah was sad, but not desperate.
Elkanah challenged her with a question; “Are you happy as you are, or, do you want more? You receive more love than most women. You receive portions and gifts that are larger than those of everyone else in the family. If you aren’t happy with what you have, what do you want?”
The objective is not to pry as well as someone else, or to become a different person. It is to identify our strengths and use them in our prayers. The former will be the crab on the land. The latter will flourish in his own environment.
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