Watching the familiar maples, oaks, and ash drift by on my way home from the airport. The landscape speaks to me of HOME. These are the trees I know and love, the place where my roots are deepening year after year. It is a lovely feeling, that feeling of home. At the same time, I feel the sudden jerk of the thousands of miles traveled over the course of the day to get here. Truly, our technology has far out-paced evolution, and it is a jarring sensation to be among oaks and maples, having spent the last week amongst the laurels and aspens of Colorado. I am alone, and heading back to my family after having spent the week with my chevre - my learning community. I am on my way home from my annual ALEPH study intensive, known as Smicha Week. We gather once a year from points around the world for study, prayer, and growth together. We leave as new versions of ourselves that our loved ones in the “outside world” have not yet experienced, nor had the opportunity to watch unfold. We arrive home different, transformed.
A major part of my transformation over the week came through the study of the Halacha of the Jewish practice of thrice-daily prayer. Guided by the sure hands of Rabbi Vivie Mayer, we explored a variety of texts on the topic, going through alleyways and avenues technical and emotional. At the end of the week, it came to me that this would make for a nice entree back into my blog, in a series on one of my favorite subjects - prayer.
It is difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps I will start with the question of what I mean by prayer. The Hebrew word for prayer - Tefillah - has two distinct meanings. It can mean prayer, in general, and it can refer specifically to the centerpiece of our liturgy, the Amidah. You will see, over the course of this series, how each meaning is used at different times, and some of the ways the ideas that go into the formulation of this practice helped to shape the text of the Amidah.
Luckily for us, there are only two meanings behind the word Tefillah. The primary question I will be exploring over the course of this series is: how did the formula for saying the Amidah/communing with G8d in prayer 3 times a day come about? This question has many, many answers. They live in conversation with each other, and all guide the development of our practice.
Over the coming weeks, as I continue to digest this all, we will explore various verses from Tanakh, rabbinic texts, and personal experiences and gleanings to come to a better understanding of how our tradition developed, and how this tradition can help us enrich our own prayer lives. I hope you will join me!