Wandering Through Our Prayer Book

by Lynn Urbach, President

I go to Shabbat services at least a couple of times a month. The more often I go, the more I get out of it. That doesn’t surprise me. I see it as similar to meditation or yoga. Participating infrequently just doesn’t work. It is takes practice to get into the right frame of mind. There are times when I sit in the sanctuary and I feel spiritual, feel connected to those around me, and/or feel like prayer is meaningful to me. There are days I pray as though alone, oblivious to those around me. Then there are the times during which my head is in a completely different place. I can neither concentrate on anything spiritual (whatever that means; I’m still working on that one) nor keep my mind from wandering to all of the minutiae of daily life that take up so much mental space. 

When Rabbi Saks explains our service and our siddur (prayer book), he often says that if you can’t find the correct page then find a page that’s right for you in that moment. That’s what I try to do. Have you ever just wandered through our siddur? When my mind is wandering or I can’t stop thinking about all the things I have to get done in the upcoming week, I like to page through and find something to read. Here are a few that I like from Mishkan T’filah

I need strength, humility, courage, patience.

Strength to control my passions,

humility to assess my own worth,

courage to rise above defeats,

patience to cleanse myself of imperfections.

And wisdom: to learn and live by our sacred teachings.

Let me not be discouraged by my failings.

Let me take heart

from all that is good and noble in my character.

Keep me from falling victim to cynicism.

Teach me sincerity and enthusiasm.

Endow me with perception and courage,

That I may serve others with compassion and love.

Adapted from Robert I. Kahn; page 218.

When Torah entered the world, freedom entered it.

The whole Torah exists only to establish peace.

Its highest teaching is love and kindness.

What is hateful to you, do not do to any person.

That is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.

Those who study Torah are the true guardians of civilization.

Honoring one another, doing acts of kindness,

and making peace: these are our highest duties.

But the study of Torah is equal to them all,

Because it leads to them all.

Let us learn in order to teach.

Let us learn in order to do!

By John Rayner and Chaim Stern; page 257.

And finally, a piece from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1

And who is wise? The one who learns from everyone. And who is mighty? One who controls one’s urges. And who is rich? One who is happy with what one has.

Page 233.

No matter what my state of mind when I enter the sanctuary, I leave feeling refreshed, peaceful, able to live my life, or at least, on that day, to live it more in step with the way I want to lead it. 

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