Using the Siddur As A Workbook I (Transcription)
If you look through the packet that you have, and this is just part one, you’ll see selection from everything from the zohar, to the Talmud, to Midrashim, to halachic literature to biblical commentaries, and there is absolutely nothing on prayer. And the reason is that what I’d like to do is take philosophical ideas as presented by major thinkers throughout the ages and we’re gonna go all the way back to the Talmud and all the way up to the 20th century, to the 1960’s. And I didn’t put it in any specific order. Share these ideas with you and then hopefully if you brought your Siddurim show you where you can find these ideas in the Siddur. And the reason is, you won’t personally agree with every idea here, especially since many of them are contradictory. But some of you may enjoy other ideas and be more conviced or moved by some ideas than you are by others. But if let’s say you find a philosophical idea that you think can have meaning in your life, and you have a way of reminding yourself of that idea that concept on a regular basis, and using your Siddur to do that, then what will happen is every time you recite the prayer that you associated with that idea you’re going to be reminding yourself of something that’s important to you. So that’s objective number one.
Actually objective number one is to expose you to major concepts in Jewish thoughts. Number two is to teach you how the siddur is actually a mean of reminding ourselves constantly of those things, those values and ideas that are important and practical. Number three the Siddur teach us how to use the ideas in a practical way once you figure out where to plug it in the Siddur so that it’s not only an idea but it’s actually a workbook. For a person to figure out how to fit this idea into my life, and number for is so from now on an in the rest of your life, whenever you hear an idea or have a thought or an experience that is powerful, one of your first reactions will be, “Wow, where can I plug it in to my Siddur?” And what you will find is that your Siddur will become literally as a workbook for living as a jew. And it will always change, it will never be the same. I buy a Siddur every year, and I feel the pages with notes. What you have here in this Siddur are my notes from the first six months of last year. So this is part one, this is actually the first three months and the next three months are in the next packet. So, that’s what I wanna do. We’re gonna read the text together, I’ll translate them for you because I’ll also expose you to the methodology of these different thinkers, mostly these is not available in translations. See that’s what you wanna do, it’s gonna take work, I would urge you to bring your own Siddur so you can write in your Siddur. And it’s gonna take work, because you’re gonna have to figure out to where to plug it in your Siddur, but then I’ll show you once you figured out where to plug it in, how the Siddur literally tells you what to do with the idea.
So, that’s what I wanna do and the first selection (and it’s not in any order because I didn’t want you to think there was an order in your Siddur) is the mabit, and this is from his sacred Beit Elochim. He wrote a magnificent book on philosophy, and like this one that we’re about to do it is typical of his thought, so if you like it I would urge you to buy the mabit and learn it! That’s another objective, by the way, just to expose you to different thinkers and I’m sure everyone here will find someone with whom they are comfortable and if you do find a philosopher with whom you are comfortable, buy it, learn it, and use it for your life.
Okay, the bottom paragraph, we’re at the bottom paragraph first page. What is the word Ha-el? We say the word Ha-el, the lord, the power is the most accurate translation. What is to teach us, that we do not have permission to ask or to request anything other than from God. We may not ask from the above meaning the sun and the moon, we are not subservient to them, nor from the angels. From the almighty alone, to whom is our lord. So the word Ha-el means you’re not allowed to ask from any other than God. Because it is interesting that even at the time that the Jews denied God, and God said to them, this is after the scene of the golden calf, “I’m going to send an angel to lead you because I no longer want to deal with you directly, I want to deal with you through an angel” and God says listen if there’s an angel, watch out, don’t rebel against him hoping that he will overlook your sins because an angel doesn’t overlook sins. An angel seeks bad response to bad, if you wanna be bad you have to deal with God, ironically. That we see from those verses, doesn’t that verse mean that the angels need to mediate between God and us? Isn’t that what it says? Therefore the verse writes immediately afterwards that the only purpose of sending an angel was as a messenger to lead them into the land. And the verse writes, that my angel will walk in front of you, down to the Gods of other nations, so the first idea of Ha-el is that this is the only power to whom we may ask. Go to the bottom paragraph of the next page. We’re on the second page now. There’s another reason of why prayer has to be to God and not any other, because God who is Ha-el the power, has the ability to take care of our needs and what we are requesting, and others don’t. Therefore you’re not allowed to pray to anyone else or any other power to ask for your needs. So in other words to ides in Ha-el is this is the power to whom we must pray and it’s only practical to pray to this power because only this power has the ability to answer our prayer.
Well I put an easy one first because obviously where would you put this in your Shema’s right? Where would you put this in your praying? So what I do is I wrote in my Siddur because I remember what it means. In other words when I say the word Ha-el now I automatically think this is the only power to whom I may pray and it’s the only power to whom it makes sense to pray because it’s the only power with the ability to respond to my prayers. Now, this is an incredible concept, because it means let’s say I go to somebody and I ask that person for a loan so I always know there’s a chance that that person will say no, they usually do. And I can go to that person and there’s a chance that they’ll say no, but that’s okay because chances are that I will find someone else to ask about. When I realize that this is my last recourse, and I have no one else to whom to go to, to ask for a loan, this is the only person who can afford it, because I’ve gone to everyone else I know and this is the only friend I have left, so then the way I make the request is entirely different. I know when my kids want something and they ask their mother first, their mother says no, when they come to me, they come with a much more manipulative request than if they had come to me first and I had said no right? It’s different when you know this is your last chance of getting it. And that means when I pray for something, I am requesting something, I have to realize it only makes sense to request it from the only power that has the ability to grant that request and it also means that I have to realize when I’m making that request that that’s the way I have to ask for it. I have to ask it in a way that means that I’m aware that this is my only way to get it. It’s a powerful idea. So that’s number one.
A good rabbi is going to tell you this is what you should do for God to give you something. And if you go to a Lubavich rabbi it is clear that you have to ask God for it to grant it to you. I bless you that god will give this to you. He would never do it like that; you have to be very careful with your request. You have a lot of work ahead of you. We’re doing one thing at a time. How do you deal with anger and rage? I never have any so I wouldn’t know. The next, he is Hasidic, he’s gorgeous he’s just a beautiful beautiful human being, I love him. You’re now into 13th century. So we went from 14th century, now we’re back in 13th century. As a person is requesting something that is really praying for his creator is requesting success in the study of Torah is prays of God. Or anything else that is from the desires of heaven that is I’m having troubles praying, would you help me pray? I’m having trouble with the observance of this mitzvah, will you help me? Will you open my soul so that these mitzvot will talk to me? Will you help me mature? Will you help me to deal with this situation so I can continue to grow as a human being? It doesn’t have to be something religious; it has something from the desires of heaven. And this person making the request pours out his soul over the request is guaranteed that God will listen to this prayer even if the person has absolutely no good deeds at all. And this is an important one for me.
No, God does not listen to every prayer. If let’s say I pray and it doesn’t mean anything to me. Like saying you know, I’m so frustrated! Help me with this business. That’s what he means. You know the famous story with the little boy with the aleph, bet? The child was raised by the polish noblemen, Ukrainian noblemen, who owned the inn that they were renting, and because they had been such loyal servants and customers, so he decided that he would raise their child as his own and to the child the extra effort and the extra honor to convert the child to Catholicism. And the only thing that the father had left for his son is on his possession was his bag of tefilin. And so they boy grew up as a good catholic boy and he was baptized and everything but he did know, and his father had told him that his father had been Jewish. The nobleman told him his natural father had been Jewish, and he gave him the pair of tefilin. So one time he saw a bunch of Jews in the street and they were all gathering together and he asked what where they doing and they said well we are Jewish and all and he asked where are you going and they said to the Hashem tov, and he said why are you going to him and they answered, you know it’s Rosh Hashana, and he said well I’m Jewish too. He ran home and he grabbed his tefilin, he showed it to them and they said you know that’s very nice you wanna come? And he said no, no, no, no. as his walking away he heard a little boy that is in his caravan’s family and he’s going to visit the Hashem tov singing the aleph, bet and he remember his mother singing to him the aleph, bet when he was a boy. And he didn’t even know what it was, so about a week and a half later they’re gathering back in town and he says what are you doing here? And they say they’re going back for Iom Kippur and they explain to him what Iom kippur is about. And he sang the song, the aleph, bet to them and he asked them what it was about, and they said those are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and he asked them if he could come with them to the Hashem tov, and they said yes. And he snuck away with them and he sat in the back and he had no idea what was going on, no idea at all. And he didn’t know what to do. And finally at the ending of Kippur he said I’ll sing my song, the a,b,c the aleph, bet over and over and over again and I’ll tell god I don’t know how to say the words, so you take the letters, and you form them into the right words. So the Hashem Tov says that he has to wait for God to finish taking all the letters and forming them into the right words before he could finish his shmona ezre. Purify our hearts means at least have the ability to feel.
So you’re tying it to God listening to your prayer, that could be. I tie it into the first part, is learning how to ask for something that matters to God. So where’s the first part involving where you are asking for something that matters to God. God open my lips and my mouth will speak words of your prayers. In other words, I want to succeed in prayer, this is what I really want so help me do it. I add this that you can grant man wisdom, because there’s nothing that God wants more tan awareness, and self development. So I see that as the fourth blessing of the Shema Israel. Let’s say I would add it to this other prayer then that means that I’m reminding myself to pray even before I pray that I have to pray in order for my prayer to succeed and that if my prayer is presenting that God wants God then hear my prayer. This is an incredible idea. I’m praying for something that you want as well. And that means that when I’m asking for something what will it make me think of when I’m making that request, what might I think of before I present my request to God? Whether it’s something that God wants or not, so even if it will be my Lamborghini that I‘ve been asking for for years, I have to ask myself is this really what, does God want me to have a Lamborghini. And of course he’d say yes because then there would be a cool rabbi and everyone would want to go to service! That’s the only reason I’m wanted! So just ask something worthy for some reason. I always end up with a minivan!
So that’s what it mean, that before you ask for something and it doesn’t have to be a religious thing! And if I’m asking, I’m having a problem in a relationship, I’m having financial difficulties, I’m having problems with my occupation, or I’m having health problems and I pray for help in that area, if I could say this is important to you too. So it’s a different type of prayer, so I plug it in to the first one because for me that’s the most operative of the blessing and we’ll get to why I believe that eventually. So you want to remind yourself if it’s a request that matters or not. So I would urge you to put it in the place that matters to you. So one of the ideas you learnt tonight, just try it and write it in your Siddur, and when you get to that place in your Siddur, and see if it makes a difference. If it does you’ll come back. And if you do it I’m sure you’ll come back! When I put in the fourth blessing it reminds me that I want to succeed and the only thing I want to succeed in is in reading Torah because that’s the key to everything else. To raising my children, to doing a good job, to praying, well to everything else. So when I say to God listen you give people wisdom, give me some so I can finally learn something, I say I want it because it’s your Torah and this is what’s important and it changes everything for me. There’s a bigger question about praying in Hebrew if you don’t understand it than there is about praying in English. The minute you say to God I want it because this is also important to you is the difference. Meaning God is a partner. I don’t know about you but whenever I feel that God is a partner I feel a lot more secure, I do. And by the way god as a partner just think about it, that what I’m doing I’m doing as a partner with God. It changes that’s why before you learn meditate on why you’re learning. Make God a partner in your learning. Change the way you pray, before you pray why do you think you say God open my lips? So part of it is because we can’t pray with God’s help but the only other reason is that you don’t wanna pray alone you wanna feel that God is helping you pray. The minute you think about it God wants to help you succeed. God wants you to succeed, God wants to help you pray, and your prayers will be different. This thing touches on a million ideas and one of them this idea of partnership with God is a significant idea. Yeah I focus on partnership in the second verse of the Shema because it says that you sustain life with kindness. Why is the substance of life together in the verse with the resurrection of the dead? Because why does God resurrect the dead because they ultimate purpose of recreation is not this world but the world to come the resurrection of the dead. So that means that God’s interested in ultimate purpose. That means that I have to succeed, correct? If I have to succeed then God has to sustain me. Has to be involved in my life, because you can’t possibly succeed without God guiding you towards what it is. So to me the key, the second blessing is God is partner, and it’s a female blessing. Cause God is a mother, caretaker. That’s why it speaks about compassion. It is much more important that you just care about that you want it to bed what God wants. And now this is why the next selection is my next piece, it was written in the 19th by rabbi Tzaddok of Dublin. He has numerous books but he has one book in which he takes the most significant ideas in all the other books and it’s his magnum opus. It is called righteousness of the righteous one. And these are the significant ideas that you can find in all of his other books condensed but this is his best book. Now on paragraph 143 on the bottom left page. But whenever a person enters the study of Torah begins to study Torah that day, or any service of the heart give him great light. As the verse says in psalm 119, opening your words gives light to me, and even the thought of basic desire. Your words give light, any desire or thoughts of studying Torah, any desire or thought of serving God is called your words that can give light. Because by using Torah, by studying Torah, or by serving God meaning performing mitzvah, God is conversing with the human being. And these thoughts come from this conversation with God, and simply opening the conversation this person will receive great life. Even children understand this because as the midrash says and every time someone begins the service of God it doesn’t mean the beginning of service of God in life. There is a certain level of innocence and openness that doesn’t exist in an adult. And for the beginning of true understanding it’s not necessary to have great light. And it’s possible for it to lose that light as we lose our innocence. I’ve had the privilege that my grandfather was one of the best rabbis in his generation, you can check it out, and this one thing about studying with him and he knew more than anyone else. When he opened a book he was like a little kid that had been given a complete collection of baseball cards. And it was even when he was in his late eighties, he would study eight hours and he would be as excited at the end as he was in the beginning. So when I read this I automatically plug it to a very real thing, this poor man could not sleep at night because he was so excited about everything he learnt during the day, and he’d have to walk back and forth back and forth to calm himself down so he could go to sleep. The poor man suffered because he could never get to sleep , he was always excited about what he was learning. That’s what it’s referring to over here. And that’s why it says right at the beginning of the creation and there was light because whenever you see yourself beginning something new, and you look at it with the innocence of a child, there is light. That the holy one blessed would be he created in the beginning of the world has been set aside for the righteous in the world to come. Then why did God create it? It was created simply to be there and hidden so we could find it. And so you find at the time the beginning of the Torah I said that you should all be as Gods but now that you have seen you will be as human beings. The openings of your words give light. And then, listen to what it says, if you experience life when you open up your Siddur meaning, wow I’m so happy I could do this mitzvah, even if that light goes away because it is difficult to attain that light is put aside for you in the world to come, it is yours forever. Do you realize what he’s saying? That any time you’ve experienced joy and light in learning you’ll light the happiness of innocence and learning, and doing a mitzvah, and feeling something even if it’s lost don’t worry it wasn’t lost. It was taken and hidden in the world to come and it’s waiting for you there. Do you realize this? That means that if you’re able to gain those feelings in just a few moments of reading once a week then that’s unbelievable. The tzadik means that you experience moments of righteousness and your moment of righteousness is with you forever, eternity, the world to come, it is not lost. And the best way to develop this ability of experiencing this light and joy I was just imagining wow can you imagine what my grandfather was like. That miniature future ability to enhance the portion of the world to come, it does not take away, it doesn’t cause you to forfit. There are certain sins that cause you to forfit. Your reality in the world to come exists and the only question is how much of it you will access, its there it exist in olam haba your specific place is there and its only a question of how much of yourself you will access, and the more you develop and the more you grow and the more responsibility you take for your existence the more of your olam haba you’ll access and every decision that you’ve made has really been a decision that will effect your eternal portion of life. So far where would you put this into your davening? This basic idea. So far we’ve gone over three major basic concepts each one is a different principle. This is an incredible idea so you can put it in a place in davening where light is thematic. Where is light thematic? “give us light in your Torah” which is the beracha immediately before the shema in the morning. The one who gives light to the earth. Or the one who renews the world everyday. Where else could you put it? But the point is, this is something usefull in davening. If you put it there and use it, then it’s really unbeliveble, but would you put it closer to the beginning or to the end? Obviously in the beginning. So you know that you put it at the beginning of the Shema. So the question it’s like this, you have to ask yourself. If you’re asking for the light in your davening then you put it as early as possible in your davening. Use your davening to teach you how to have this light in other areas of your life. So then you don’t put it at the beginning of your davening because it’s not what you’re looking for in your daveing, it’s not gonna teach you how to use davening to create this type of feeling or attitude towards life. Am I looking for this light only for the davening itself or am I looking for davening to teach me how to create this sense of light and energy in all areas of my life.
So the best advice to develop this attitude is . Now, why is this? Remember, this is talking about beginnings. If we’re talking about beginnings, which person we’re talking about? Abraham. An in the end, when you finally access the full light (…) David, who is the symbol of hamashia, (…) and that is the level of prayer. David represents prayer, David writes of himself in psalm 35, and I am teffila. David, at the time that it began the construction of the temple, because he dug the foundation for the temple, he was looking to open something and begin a process with god’s line. (43:32)