Aryeh Ben David

Tired of Dead-End Submission

What is the hardest thing for me in organized prayer?

It’s not the routine of the prayer book.

It’s not that most people just want to get through the service.

It’s not the fast pace of a morning service. I don’t need a slower service. I’m not looking for a group of slow readers.

And I’m not looking for more singing either. I’m not much of a singer.

The hardest part for me is the energy of the other people in the room.

I need a different kind of service.

I’m looking for a minyan of listeners.

Today’s tefila is a paradigm of submission:

• Dedicate the time
• Say the words
• Add a brief tiny personal prayer (optional)

I want more than submission. I want a prayer of action – of active listening, receiving, and change.

Jewish prayer is said standing erect. An incredibly audacious posture for prayer.

Try this for a moment:

Lie down and prostrate yourself on the ground. Head down, neck exposed, arms extended. See how that feels. Wow. That’s submission. That’s giving oneself over to God. That’s total vulnerability and surrender. Humbling and scary.

And that’s not what we do. We stand upright, straight and tall. Not submissive but royal. Ready to be called to action.

What is the test of prayer? What is the sign that prayer has really been “the work of the heart”? Is it staying till the end? Is it managing to say all the words? Is it feeling all warm and fuzzy inside?

The test of prayer – is what happens after saying the prayers. Just like the test of saying a blessing is what happens after the blessing. The goal of a blessing is not just to say the words. The goal of a blessing is to transform my eating. It is tested in how I behave AFTER saying the blessing. If my eating has not been changed or elevated at all because of the blessing – then the saying of the blessing has been a barren declaration.

The same is true for prayer. Does my prayer experience affect my life or has it been lifeless?

My hunch is that if I pretended to be a CNN reporter interviewing people coming out of synagogue and asked them: “How do you think your morning prayer will affect the rest of your day?” They would probably look at me dazed in astonishment and think I had lost it.

But it is not a weird question. The tragedy is that the question is not even on our radar screen.

I want a prayer minyan of people yearning to receive God’s words in order to affect how they live, how to better live in the Image of God.

And if someone would say: “Aryeh – who do you think you are? A tzaddik? A prophet? Who are you to hear the word of God?” I would answer: “Rav Kook writes that our soul is always talking to us. God is always communicating to us through the inner voice of our soul. There is a lot to listen to. Prayer is the ideal time.”

I’m ready for submission. But I’m tired of dead-end submission. I seek a standing upright, audacious and royal submission.

I want the energy of people seeking to be transformed with a new clarity and vision of their holy mission in life.

In short, Jewish prayer.

About the Author
Aryeh Ben David founded Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education in 2008. Ayeka educates rabbis, teachers, and professionals to bring Jewish wisdom from our minds to our hearts to our souls and into our lives. He recently published: The Secret of Love - A Glimpse into the Mystical Wisdom of Rav Kook. He lives in Efrat with his wife, Sandra.