The word “prayer” actually comes from the Latin word meaning “to beg” – exactly what many people feel prayer is. They imagine a big king in the sky who is getting a big ego boost from watching his subjects beg. This is a terrible image of our selves and of God.
I was once sitting and learning Torah with the Hollywood Actor, Kirk Douglas, when suddenly he turned to me and said, “You know, Rabbi, I love being Jewish.”
“Oh, yeah? Why?” I asked.
Imagine you walk into a magic store where they sell special flashlights equipped with magic lights of different kinds. For example, you can buy the light of science, and when you point that flashlight at your hand, you see not a hand, but cells and blood vessels and tendons and ligaments. Or you can buy the light of art, and you point that flashlight at your hand, you see your hand as if it were a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci – you see form, and color, and texture.
The great Kabbalist and philosopher, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, living at the turn of the century wrote, “There is faith that is actually denial, and there is denial that is actually faith.”
In one of my seminars I asked everyone to look around the room and point to beauty. The first interesting result was that everyone pointed to something different. One man pointed to his wife. Another man pointed to a flower. A woman named Bea pointed to a glass menorah (a Hanukkah candelabra) that was sitting on a windowsill. I asked Bea how she saw beauty in that menorah. Did she see beauty with her physical eyes?
There is a wonderful fable about the dove. Originally doves, so the tale goes, had no wings. One poor dove was being constantly harassed by a lion. Every day the lion would run after the dove, and the dove would just barely escape.
One day the dove prayed to God: “God, I’m a little dove. I can’t outrun this lion every day. One of these days he’s going to catch me. I need help. Please, God, help me.”
When I was in high school, I went with a couple of friends to a hip cafe in downtown Toronto. The cafe had live folk music, so we went to hear the musicians. There we were, sitting at a table, trying to decide what to order. When the waitress came, I was still engrossed in looking at the menu. Finally, I looked up to order, and I shrieked, “Mrs. Hobbs!” I couldn’t believe my eyes—it was Mrs. Hobbs, my math teacher. I had seen her just that day in math class. The shock of seeing her in this totally different context dumbfounded me.
I get a great kick watching my children watch the world. They are blessed with the eyes of wonder.
The general way people understand God is that there’s existence, and then there’s God in existence. Within that existence God has created little you and me. And so here we are in existence, standing alongside Almighty God. With that picture before our eyes, we cannot help but feeling very small, insignificant, threatened.
The world you see is a function of the way you look at reality. The first man and woman were in the Garden of Eden because they were able to see the All and therefore felt at one with reality – God. But when they ate from the forbidden Tree …