Studying Prayerfully

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This essay can also be viewed in pdf format.

This essay was published in Bread and Fire: Jewish Women Find God in the Everyday, Rivkah Slonim (editor), (Urim Publications, Jerusalem), p. 75-79, which can be purchased at amazon.com and urimpublications.com

Avi, Adoni, Dodi , My father, my master, my friend, my beloved.

I enter into this study in order to draw close to You – for the sake of holy service and the fulfillment of Your will for me and for all of Israel and for this entire planet.  Please assist my efforts and guide my understandings.

Let me internalize Your Torah to the depth of my being so that I become transformed by Your will and its truths.

Let neither myself nor anyone else come into stumbling as a result of this study.

Gal einai v’abita niflaot m’toratecha[1], Open my eyes that I may behold wonders from Your Torah.

 

This is a prayer I wrote many years ago, when I first began studying Torah . I continue to say this prayer every day before I begin learning, and I say it with my students before I begin teaching. To better understand this prayer and its deep roots, we must first put on a wide angle lens and examine some of the broad and archetypal themes that are raised by the Biblical story of Chana,[2] the quintessential role model of Jewish prayer. In particular, we want to look at the fact that Chana, a woman, had such an enormous impact on the way we, as Jews, pray.  And secondly, we want to explore why it is that her watershed prayer was, significantly, a prayer for child.

There is perhaps no other instance of a woman having such a profound, direct and acknowledged impact on Jewish practice.[3] And it is not just prayer in general that we learn from Chana… it is our Amida, the silent prayer, the prayer that is the very essence of Jewish prayer.  All other Jewish liturgy is either building up to or winding down from the Amida.  The Talmud and Midrashim list many essential features of this prayer that are modeled after Chana’s prayer, including the fact that it is a whispered prayer, and even the fact that it comprises eighteen blessings.[4]

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