Prayer and Destiny — Excerpts
The instruction in these lessons is practical. It aims to improve your quality of life by deepening your sensitivity to Divine influence. It is designed for those interested in the practical application of spirituality, for those who understand that metaphysical speculation is vanity if it does not integrate into daily life and become a resource for solving personal problems. The lessons emphasize accessibility, avoiding technicalities wherever possible. Their basis is traditional Judaism. They include exercises which are essential if you want to integrate the material and make it yours. Ideally, it should seep into your bones. Your instinctive and reflexive way of relating to the world should become conditioned by its truth. . .
…Life’s purpose becomes the work of fixing and reconstructing the vessel of creation. This is not just a question of putting pieces back together like a puzzle. It is intensely creative work, for our final product must be stronger than the first. Our re-creation must be an improved version, free of the original flaws which predisposed it to shattering. Every soul comes into this world with an appointed task, and with precisely the tools and skills it will need to accomplish its mission and realize its potential. It enters a body and a set of life circumstances that expose some portion of it to the grindstone of life. It is on this front, and this front alone, that growth occurs. It is here that life’s work is fulfilled. . .
. . . The Eternal One desires our perfection. This is the driving force behind creation. Held within the Creator’s mind’s eye (so to speak) is a glorious and ecstatic vision of what this cosmic “project” will look like when it is completed. In the meantime, however, the universe is a work in progress, and each of us has certain contributory tasks that only he can perform. So the question becomes, how do we know what they are? . . . The first step, is self-reflection. It is the work of sifting through our feelings, yearnings, and inclinations, and identifying those that seem to be most deeply true. This is the phase of information gathering. It provides the raw material for the service of prayer. The only means we have of peeking into the “Teacher’s Edition” and glimpsing what we look like in the Ultimate vision of our perfection is through this work of self-reflection. The Infinite One communicates this information to us constantly through the voice of our inner longings. . .
. . . The deepest truth of any matter must be expressed as a paradox — as two mutually exclusive and equally true statements. The real truth then appears as the elusive product of their tension and interaction. Unless one is grappling with paradox, one is not at the heart of the subject. . . . Our post-modern age has been forced to accept this method of inquiry based on paradox. The recently discovered scientific fact that light is a particle and light is a wave, although these are two mutually exclusive and absolutely contradictory truths, has radically transformed the way we see the world . . . You might be surprised to discover that this radical and contemporary view of the world is ancient history for the Jewish tradition. One of the most famous dicta of the Talmud is the assertion: “These and these (which are completely contradictory) are both the words of the living G-d.” The principle of paradox is fundamental and explicit in the Talmud. It constantly presents two opposite and conflicting opinions, and affirms both, for the truth is something greater than either, whose depth and subtlety are only apparent by playing one side against the other and discovering the perspective where opposites reconcile. . .
. . . In other words, true prayer requires that one’s desire for a thing be superseded by one’s desire not to have it, if it does not accord with Divine will and Supreme Good. One’s chash, or submission to the authority of Divine truth and spiritual law, must supersede one’s mal, one’s drive toward a particular end or goal. . .
. . The Creator designed the world so that our will, can override Divine will so to speak. In other words, we can choose to disregard truth and act instead from our cravings, regardless of their spiritual integrity. The Infinite One will place obstacles (i.e., angels) in our path to awaken us and to urge us to reconsider our goals. Though these hindrances frustrate our path, they actually express Divine kindness and mercy, for if we would but heed their message, they could save us much greater hardship in the end. But if like Balaam, we barrel right through the roadblocks, ignoring that instinctive, primal part of us (symbolized by Balaam’s donkey), then we will surely suffer in the end. Divine will will anyway be done, but now it happens at our expense. . .
. . The Torah contains all that can be known about the world. It is a structure of infinite depth and complexity with layer upon layer of meaning and relevance. Although scholars and sages of every era labor all their lives to understand it, there always remain aspects yet to be discovered by the next generation. In fact, the sages teach that every person has a unique “portion in the Torah,” the creative thought and discovery that only he can make. And until that person does so, that revelation, small as it may be, remains hidden to the world. . .
. . . The power of blessing is to peer into the hidden depths of another’s soul, see its beauty and its longings, articulate them as prayer, and so facilitate their journey toward realization. One might say that blessing is your request for another, prayer is your request for yourself. . .
. . . When a person of flesh and blood pleads before the Holy One with utmost sincerity and passion, and his prayer is for that which is truly his destiny (i.e., G-d’s will for him), then in that moment he becomes nothing but a voice-piece to the Divine in this most lowly world of action and physicality. His personal will becomes aligned with and dissolved in Divine Will. In that instant, he embraces the paradox of physical existence and self-nullification, self-assertion and complete surrender to the Eternal. He binds the material with the spiritual, embodying both antithetical realities simultaneously. . .
. . . In other words, when a person prays for something from the depths of longing, yet overrides the prayer with an even deeper desire not to have that “thing” if it conflicts with Divine will, he enters the point of transcendence within himself. At that point of ayin, of negation of ego, he is totally submitted to truth, i.e., the truth of his soul, which is his destiny, which is the Creator’s will for him. This lifts his prayer beyond the stratospheres to the point of ayin in Divinity, which is the cosmic source of creation, the place where the “Omnipotent Architect” dwells. . .
. . . So you see, rejecting anthropomorphisms has value and truth, but only as a stage. The next level is to come full circle back around and embrace them. When you can bring all your sophistication and depth of understanding back into the symbol, you have something even greater than the sum of its parts. When you can, at one and the same time, know that the Infinite One is totally abstract and incorporeal, yet speak with G-d heart to heart like a benefactor, friend, spouse, (or even therapist), then you have the best of both worlds. And not only that, but your grasp of truth and your experience of Divinity become infinitely more profound. You enter into a whole new level of understanding what it means that G-d is One. And that is another paradox. . .
. . . How do you know when you have crossed that line between serving the Divine and serving yourself? How do you really gauge whether your desire for service still overrides your desire for “the thing” which is the object of your prayer? This is a very difficult question. The indicators can be quite subtle. Generally the answer comes in two ways. . .
. . . So you see that prayer is also an end in itself. It alone penetrates to our core, deepening and preparing us to receive the blessing that is our destiny. Prayer actually transforms us, even as it transforms the world. It purifies and elevates us at the same time that it draws down into reality our heart’s desire. The means are the ends. . .
. . . All that we have learned about prayer thus far is only scratching the surface. Isaac Luria, in his monumental work the Tree of Life (the most important Kabbalistic text since the Zohar), teaches that prayer is the most potent and essential spiritual work that we can perform in these later generations. More powerful than any other mitzvah, and more than studying Torah, or meditating, or performing deeds of kindness, is the power of prayer. At this stage of history, we transform ourselves and the world most profoundly through this practice. . .
Prayer and Destiny -- Final Questions
1. How can anthropomorphism serve a useful role in one’s relationship with the Eternal?
2. What does Judaism use as a basic working definition of G-d (acknowledging, at the same time, that G-d is essentially beyond definition altogether)?
3. According to Torah, what is a human being’s purpose in this world?
4. Describe some of the more fundamental differences between prayer and those practices that primarily employ the tenets of magic?
5. How does the Eternal One communicate Divine will and vision to creation in order to direct it toward its perfection?
6. How does the word chashmal contain a formula for prayer?
7. What is the value of acknowledging a power greater than oneself that created and continues to sustain, and relate to the universe? What qualities must one cultivate to develop this relationship?
8. What is the mitzvah of prayer?
9. What is the Law of Affinity and how does it apply to prayer?
10. What does it mean that G-d “needs” or “desires” the prayers of human beings?
11. What are the three elements of prayer and what purpose does each serve?
12. What is the most essential ingredient of prayer?
13. How does one decide whether he or she should be praying for specific or general things?
14. Under what conditions is visualization an acceptable tool of prayer? Why can self-visualization be damaging? How can one circumvent these difficulties?
15. What advantages does prayer have as a tool for personal growth and self actualization?
16. “Growth is life’s imperative.” What are the various ways that this comes about?
17. What is the concept of “running and returning”? How should we incorporate it into our prayer?