Weekly Davar: Shlach 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

When Moses sent the spies, he changed Hoshea’s name to Joshua. The rabbis understand that he prayed for him. The name Joshua means, ‘God should save you’. Moses knew that there was trouble brewing with the spies and prayed for Joshua to be saved from the social pressure he would face.

I have always wondered, however, why did Moses not pray for any of the other spies? It’s not that the others were already misguided, and he wanted Joshua saved from their bad intentions. We are told that at the time they left, they were all great and righteous men. It also can’t be that Moses felt Joshua was his best bet to come through the experience well because another of the spies, Caleb, also remained true to God without Moses praying for him.

So why did Moses only pray for one of the twelve spies?

I’m going to go out on a limb with a suggestion here. This is my take on it…..

In simple terms, I believe that you pray for someone that you care about. And you don’t for someone you don’t.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is any harm in praying for someone you don’t feel connected to. It’s certainly a sign of care for humanity. But, in my mind, prayer is about heartfelt feelings, not hocus pocus words. The rabbis say that ‘words from the heart enter the heart’. And that’s true with God also. Words from our hearts, so to speak, enter his. With that in mind, I’m not sure how heartfelt you can be about someone you don’t know or who doesn’t mean a lot to you. And I don’t mean that callously. It’s just very human of us that the vast majority of people in the world don’t mean that much to us. We don’t know them and have no relationship with them. We can love them in theory, but it’s hard to do so in genuine feeling.

And so, for prayer to mean something to us, the person must mean something to us. That’s just a fact of life.

In my mind, Moses knew Joshua very well. He was a close and beloved student of his. The other spies, he knew as a leader of 2.5 million people, but not personally. It’s hard to pray for someone you don’t know. And Moses didn’t. For me, our prayers are only as meaningful as they are heartfelt. Yes, it seems to me that there are those deep lovers of humanity who can pray for anyone – because they care about everyone. But that’s not me. Perhaps it was not Moses either.

In Judaism, there is a concept of regular prayer – whether you mean it or not – to keep in the habit of praying. And that makes sense. But, for me, if I’m going to pray a personal prayer – if it’s not going to be heartfelt and genuine, I’ll find something else to do instead.

By the way, I’ve just published a book on prayer called, ‘Mean What you Pray’! If you are interested in buying a copy, you can easily do so on our website here.

Shabbat Shalom

Parsha in a Nutshell

This week’s portion focuses on the story of the spies who are sent by Moses to check out the land of Israel. They return with a negative report – it is a land that eats its inhabitants. It cannot be conquered. A land of giants…… While the women, as usual, stand strong and insist on entering Israel nevertheless, then men are terrified. In spite of the miracles they have witnessed, they are unwilling to put their trust in God and refuse to enter. God responds that they are most welcome to spend another 40 years in the desert instead. Only their children will inherit the land. This is not a punishment, merely a granting of that which they requested – that they should not have to enter the land of Israel. God always leads us in a way that we have chosen.

The portion talks of other bits and bobs, but the spies’ story is the main event.

Weekly Davar: Tetzaveh 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Davar Thought

So, what is it?

Why a Temple and why Synagogues? God is nowhere if not in our hearts. Why do we need a specific place to worship? Why not wherever takes our fancy?

Let me firstly point out that prayer, in Judaism, is by no means limited to a Temple or a Synagogue. It is available at all times and in all spaces. What then is unique about a Temple?

It’s interesting to me, as a starting point, that every religion I am aware of has places of worship. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism…they all have churches, mosques, temples etc. But, then again, I think that’s cart before horse. Religions are, in essence, ways to serve God as a community as opposed to as an individual. Religions are focal points for people to share a spiritual focus, not just means for an individual to find his or her own way. The fact that religions, all over the world, gather people together in communal prayer says to me that there is something very intuitive about doing so.

Hence, in Judaism, the word for a Synagogue is beis hakneses, not house of prayer, but house of gathering.

Personally, I am a big fan of both individual and communal prayer. I’m a fan of the personal, intimate, private conversation with an Infinite God. It is one of my deepest pleasures in life. But I am also a fan of sharing that experience with others. Singing together, calling out together, connecting to God together – and at the same time connecting to each other.

In Judaism, there is a very lovely balance. We go to a Synagogue to pray together – and much of the service is a shared experience. However, the pinnacle of the service is the Amidah – the silent prayer. I close my eyes and whisper my own direct and personal prayer to God. The community lifts me…and then I pray alone. I LOVE that balance.

And this balance is also clear in the verse I quoted to start this all off, from last week’s portion – ‘make for me a Temple and I will dwell within you’. Yes, there is a power to communal worship – and hence a Temple, but ultimately, the goal is that God dwells within us, not within the Temple.

And so, the pitfall. How often do I see with Jews that God is in the Synagogue…but not much place else. The Temple was not, and must not be, a means of compartmentalizing God. It is a place to find connection to God – so that when one leaves, God comes alive in one’s heart for the rest of the day. It is a place to refocus, rejuvenate, reinvite God into our souls. Not so that we have done our duty and we can get on with our lives – rather so that we can take the feeling we have experienced and add that holiness and meaning to all that we do.

Shabbat Shalom

Parsha in a Nutshell

This week’s portion is about the clothes of the Priests who worked in the Tabernacle and subsequently the Temple. Like last week, it’s quite intricate details and not for the fainthearted, so it’s not a great week to come to Synagogue if you haven’t been in a while. Next week will be much more interesting.