Tranquility and Tefillah

I was recently in Amsterdam where I was scholar in residence for a community Shabbaton. It was a wonderful experience, but hectic and exhausting as well. I arrived at Schiphol Airport at 6.15am in order to allow time to daven shacharis (pray the morning service) at the airport.  Thank G-d I was able to find a quiet space in an airport lounge, and although I am usually a little tense when travelling, I actually found the prayers to be relaxing.  In fact, our commentaries point out that prayer instills a state of rest and tranquility, because as the individual prays he increases his awareness that everything is in the hands of Hashem.  It is for this reason that our central prayer, the Amidah, is recited while standing with our feet together: this stance is identified as being similar to the angels, whom the prophet Yechezkel describes as having “one straight foot.”  It is a posture that denotes immobility and demonstrates our belief that without Hashem we are completely powerless and unable to move. Jewish law requires that we take responsibility for our life in this world, that we work, take care of our health, and even buy life insurance. Nevertheless, we believe that the success or failure of our endeavors is dependent upon the will of Hashem. Since Hashem is benevolent, and everything is in His hands, it follows that all events that befall us are ultimately for our good. The Gemara states, “Everything that the All-Merciful does is for the good.”

Internalizing this concept enables a person to feel less anxious, more secure and tranquil, no matter what challenges are encountered. Clearly, we should not be jellyfish, flowing with the tides of life without exerting effort or trying to change direction. Nor is the positive aspect of every circumstance always obvious to us. On the other hand, we should realize that whatever may happen, we are in good hands.

The principle technique for acquiring this attitude is regular, focused, meaningful prayer.  The very fact that we stand with our feet together, as if immobilized, is almost a form of prayer through body language. We are saying that all we are really capable of doing is asking God for life, health, sustenance and everything that we need. Our efforts alone, without God’s blessing, will accomplish nothing.  Prayer, therefore, is not a way of nagging Hashem until He changes His mind about our fate.  Rather, it is a means of changing ourselves. The order of the prayers serves to reinforce this idea even before we begin.  The Sages directed people to first engage in praise of Hashem and only afterwards to request help from Him.  When we begin by praising God, we remind ourselves of Whom exactly we are praying to and what prayer is meant to achieve. We then continue with our requests, understanding that prayer is more than an eloquent kvetch.

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