The new year is is the season of formal prayer, connecting us to traditions thousands of years old, and to issues ever-present in our lives. Prayer is communal in its performance, yet deeply personal in nature, which is why I believe that many of us chat with Gd on other occasions, in other venues and languages, and likely more often than we admit.
It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes: When we feel panicked, desperate or deeply troubled we organically reach out and connect. It is then that we look for something or someone, perhaps to a power higher than ourselves to massage our souls, calm our fears, and gently rock our inner child so that all can be well.
Seven years after Gilad’s exit from our life, I feel like I should be in a better place with Gd and prayer, yet I confess that I still struggle with the how-what-where of an exchange with the Divine. As easily as I can converse with Gd in my car, in my home, and go back and forth with Him in my head, the structure and practice of formal prayer which has been in place for generations frustrates and distances me year after year. It’s as if I am floating in a different realm, disconnected from the emotions elicited by the written word, watching others chant the tefillot with meaning, shaking with a cadence that is downright spiritual. I find myself teetering on the threshold without entering the holy place; I see the crossroads but am holding back. When Gilad was taken from us, I think my disbelief and anger at Gd permitted my fall from grace, from a place where I once felt comfortable uttering the words of my ancestors, confident they were heard, faithful that they were valuable to Him. And now, while my anger has abated, I am not sure I have forgiven Gd enough to fully believe in prayer as I once did.
So here is my own prayer to Gd this Erev Yom Kippur:
Dear God —
I often say you don’t like me, but I’m afraid it may be the reverse. I am enormously jealous that you now have my son and I no longer do. Moreover, You understand the world you created, with its complexities and faults and joys and pain, and I am often befuddled, left wondering and questioning. I see snippets of the world to come in the cloud formations and reflecting lakes and sun shining upon my grandchildren’s faces. But when the earth quakes and the rains flood, when the the diagnoses come and kidnap the people we love, when the sorrows of life outweigh what is good and right, I question more and more.
I no longer thrash but I am still disappointed. While I have learned to be grateful and have promised myself to be more joyful, I ponder the inequities of life, of wealth, of goodness, of justice and the seeming random nature of life which could very well be a meticulously planned game of chess. Why is it that we continue to search for answers that are undoubtedly out of our grasp and may simply be an exercise of our minds?
After the Garden of Eden You set us up in a human world with challenges we cannot always overcome, life unfair in its construct. We are mere mortals to you, Gd, the entity who is, was, and will always be. I feel thwarted by the corporeal limitations we carry, at the demands placed on us by each other, guided by rules You established and handed down by Moses. We are flawed humans endeavoring to understand a complex world, living within the constraints of time and space and logic, obeying, listening, staying within the lines of our morals and ethics and laws. We straddle the realm between heaven and the unknown, and I fear we may be but mice in a maze trying to find the right path, only to repeat it over and over again until we get it right.
We prance inside this world but sometimes I wonder if we are really here at all, as the meaning of life eludes us and we chase it until we are so tired that we take our last breath, eager for you to welcome us with the clues, the answers, the solution to the game of life. As we wait our turn to rejoin those we loved and lost, we have reached yet another year. We can only hope that we are not at the same place we were last year at this time, as we begin the year with open hearts, clad in purity, in white. We face another Yom Kippur shedding our sins, prayerfully asking and begging, ready to let go of quirks and habits and flaws, wishing for something more, better, and especially an understanding of what our lives here on earth might be all about.
Is it about how much we accumulate on this earth? Or how large a footprint or legacy we leave behind? Could it be about how we treat each other or is it more about how we honor You? Is the meaning of life about what we accomplish together or the holy grail we individually seek? Is saying every word in the siddur what is important, or can pouring out one’s heart in on a park bench under a tree or sharing words on blog hit the mark equally well?
With the prayer book on my lap, or finding myself absent from the synagogue altogether, I am dreadfully afraid there are no answers, and maybe that is why I hesitate to communicate with You, to connect with words that are not mine, with You weighing my deeds and sins when I want to judge You for what you have taken from me. I contend that I am unable to emerge each day with grace and contentment, to praise You for what I have rather than for what I don’t, but perhaps I am simply – or not yet – willing to bridge the gap and bring You back into my life as fully as I should.
Prayer contains echoes of the past and hope for the future, and I hope that this Yom Kippur I can find the strength to be mindful and present in the synagogue, to find solace, comfort, and peace in the words of Your prayers until they become mine, too.