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No One Should Feel Alone

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When a person engages in prayer, it seems to me that it is very important for him/her to personalize the prayers as much as possible. The goal is to make the statements and supplications your own, even if someone else originally composed them.
While this is certainly the case when it comes to extemporaneous, spontaneous prayers and blessings brought about by wishing to spiritually acknowledge God’s Involvement in one’s day-to-day existence, I believe that it also is so with regard to the fixed liturgy of Jewish prayer that traditionalists recite several times a day.
Maimonides explains that due to many Jews’ discomfort with expressing themselves in Hebrew, the traditional Jewish language of the Bible and the land of Israel, the chief advisors to Ezra, formally known as “The Men of the Great Assembly,” standardized the central Jewish prayer known as the “Amida” (lit. “standing;” describing one’s body language while engaging in this prayer), in order to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to fulfilling such an important religious ritual. (See Maimonides, Mishneh Tora, Hilchot Tefilla U’Birchat Kohanim 1:4.) Preparatory and final prayers that “bookcase” the Amida, also became formalized over time, including the incorporation of several chapters of Psalms (see Tractate Shabbat 118a.) While ideally, were every individual able to freely choose what to say at a given time and place, the ultimate in personal prayer would become a reality. However, in my opinion, the “next best thing” is where one chooses a particular verse, passage, and/or sentiment contained in the prayer book that for one reason or another s/he finds especially meaningful and inspiring, and recite it slowly, and with extra feeling and intention in order to maximally imprints its import upon one’s inner reality each time that such a text is encountered within a prayer context.
For me, one such verse is included in the daily as well as Shabbat and Yom Tov section of the morning prayers, referred to as “Pesukei D’Zimra” (lit. “verses of praise”; preceding the sections of Shema and the Amida.) In Psalms 147:4, the text reads: “He Counteth the number of the stars; He Giveth them all their names.” I think that the reason why this particular verse appeals to me in general, and therefore that much more meaningfully within the context of daily prayer, is, on the one hand, my awareness of the infinite number of stars that are visible to the naked eye on a clear night, when one is away from city lights, and, on the other, that despite the stars being so obviously numerous, we believe that not only is their individuality marked by assigning each a separate number, but that each is also given a name in accordance with its own unique characteristics. Transferring the implications of such an idea to each human being, even as there are @7.5 billion people populating the earth at any given time, at least as far as God Is Concerned, each individual retains his/her distinctive identity, and there is Divine Empathy and Understanding for his/her life’s trajectory.
Just as it is reassuring for me that I am not simply some anonymous cipher among so many fellow members of the human species, but rather there is Someone out there Who actually Is Concerned with what I do and my overall welfare, in the spirit of emulating Divine Attributes, it is considered a Jewish value to care about our fellow human beings, perhaps particularly those who otherwise might be depressed by their anonymity and facelessness. Even if this means nothing more than extending a friendly greeting in passing, let alone in engaging in sympathetic conversation, or even offering some sort of invitation to do something together, one should realize that such behavior is not merely courteous, but in accordance with a true Jewish value.
If you had to identify something in your prayers that moves you deeply, what might it be?
 
Rabbi Jack Bieler was ordained at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1974. He has been an administrator and faculty member of Orthodox Jewish day schools for over thirty years. He is a Jerusalem Fellow and has published and lectured widely on the philosophy of Modern Orthodox Jewish education. He has served as Rabbi of KMS since 1993.
 
Rabbi Bieler has been a Panelist for Jewish Values Online for several years, responding to questions. You can find his answers by visiting Jewish Values Online, selecting the ‘View all panelists’ link, and clicking his name. A link will appear with his bio to show all answers he has submitted. Rabbi Bieler wrote one of the Blog entries selected as the three best for the first Quarter of 5779. You can see that entry on the front page of the Jewish Values Online Website.
 
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