October 11th, 2010
There is a tension. Some things are worth struggling for. They are beyond our immediate grasp for a good reason – if they were easy to attain, we would not value them as much. So we have to reach – go beyond our immediate set of skills and work toward something new.
But if they are too hard, we wouldn’t try. That’s why most of us are not running ultra-marathons. It’s just too much, too far out of reach for most of us. We cannot even imagine it. There are approximately infinitely many steps between us and that. But if our health depended on it, we could probably push ourselves to 5 minutes on the treadmill at ideal heart rate.
So, if it’s too easy, we won’t try. And if it’s too hard, we won’t try. It needs to be somewhere in the middle.
But is this true about prayer? Should prayer be hard enough that we will need to strive for it? I guess the easiest way to answer the question is, what would happen if prayer was utterly easy. If you could just roll out of bed (wash your hands, obviously) and bust it out – whatever rolls off the tongue, whatever concerns in whatever language. No bar – no siddur, no Hebrew, no tefillin. No minyan. What would happen then?
Well, the truth is that prayer is that easy. You can just roll out of bed and do it – whatever language, whatever words. But someone we have been taught and are teaching that, really, prayer is hard. You have to learn it – the Hebrew, the order, the laws, what you do if you forgot ya’aleh ve’ya’voh. And, not surprisingly, we end up with huge swaths of the population praying mindlessly and quickly in a language they don’t understand, expressing concepts they don’t understand and might not believe. And on the other hand, we have people who seek their prayer elsewhere, expressing other sentiments they might not believe – simply because it is easier. And in the middle, maybe, there are a few here and there who get it.
Orthodoxy criticizes movements it helped to create. Whatsupwiththat? We put the bar so high and then reject people who don’t want to jump?
Really, the prayer bar should be low. Because the thing that should be hard about prayer is the honesty, the struggle, the feeling, the search, the joy of finding, the satisfaction of expressing. We shouldn’t be wrestling with language – we should be wrestling with G-d.