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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 22 Dec 2017 08:23 PM and ends Sat 23 Dec 2017 09:24 PM
כ' חשון ה' אלפים תשע"ב
I remember listening once to an old recording of two comedians doing their act in Yiddish, or in mame loshon as they would have called it. There is a special flavour imparted to jokes and repartee in Yiddish and it was rendered even funnier by the affection and good spirit with which the two of them kidded around about Yidden and yiddishkeit.
Clearly the two of them had been quite traditional at one stage and were still steeped in the rhythms of Judaism. One of the lines that stuck in my mind was when one of them explained his perspective on the benefits of now being frei - a non-religious Jew: Az ich veht zich uf in dem fri, bin ich shoin an opgedaventer- which I would loosely translate when I wake up in the morning, I've already done with my prayers for the day.
I struggled over that translation because there are just so many underlying assumptions built into the statement. A Jew is expected to pray every day. We daven shachris in the morning, shortly after waking, and on those days when you wake up late, or become distracted before praying, there is almost a physical sense of unease or incompleteness.
Don't get me wrong, no one forces you to daven; it's just that after getting into the habit, praying becomes an integral part of your life and you feel uneasy until you've fulfilled your obligations.
In fact, I have a friend who, only partially jokingly, unfavourably compared the days he puts on tefillin early, to those times when he doesn't: "When I lay them first thing in the morning; that's it for the day. But when I don't get around to it till late in the day, in some ways I'm almost more spiritual, because I spend the whole day thinking and worrying about Tefillin and G-d"
There is some small measure of truth to my friend's assertion. If you pray out of a sense of obligation, with no other desire than to get it over with, then davening can quickly degenerate into a chore and, like the comedians referenced at the beginning of this article, it almost becomes a relief to no longer have to put in the effort. However, if you pray because you want to engage with Hashem, then even once a day is not nearly enough
The reason we pray is to maintain a relationship with G-d and, as any therapist will tell you, it's the small acts, done consistently, that guarantee the success of a relationship. Just as a husband may feel deeply in love with his wife, but it's important to regularly tell her directly how much she means to him, so too it is crucial that humans regular engage with our Creator.
However if you really want to rack up the relationship points, try touching-base in the middle of the day. Far more effective than just wishing each other a good day as you rush out of the house in the morning, is the midday call from work. When you take the time to step back from your daily responsibilities, just to call to say "I love you", then you're really demonstrating your priorities.
We read in the Torah this week and Isaac went forth to pray in the field towards evening (Chayei Soro 24:63) a reference to Mincha, the afternoon prayer. The Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that davening Mincha is the proof of one's relationship with Hashem. Unlike morning and evening, when one's time is relatively unencumbered, taking a break from our daily tasks, just to touch base with G-d, demonstrates our true priorities in life.
We don't daven because we have to, but because we want to. Stepping back from our daily struggle for a few minutes, to focus on our Creator, shows how integral that relationship is to our sense of self. You should never take a spouse or loved one for granted and neither can you expect to take non-stop from G-d, without occasionally giving something back.
Try it for yourself. Whatever you're doing right now; stop and do two things. First, reach for a siddur or close your eyes and touch base with Hashem and then pick up the phone and tell someone that you love them. You'll be a better person for the trouble, Hashem will respond with blessing and you'll make someone very happy, as you show them how much you care.
Dedicated to Leah, on the occasion of her birthday 20 Cheshvan