In Preparation for Yom Kippur
Rav Soloveitchik often taught that prayer is, at its core, asking God to fill our needs. Essentially that means that the fewer needs we have the less we are inclined to pray. In fact, the Midrash indicates that God deliberately withholds our needs to spur our prayers. Our matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel were all denied children for many years. The Midrash states that God “craved” their prayers and therefore imposed fertility issues upon them so they would pray.
This might explain why we have such difficulty praying today. We don’t perceive ourselves as lacking anything, at least not lacking anything that we need God for. Fertility issues? We have our own solutions for that. We have intrauterine treatments, artificial insemination – we can even develop a human in a petrie dish. We don’t need God for that!
It is no wonder we struggle to relate to the themes and supplications expressed in our liturgy. We live in an age of unprecedented wealth. We have access to comforts our ancestors could not have imagined. If we are unwell we simply skip work – and the crops don’t fail as a result. We have leisure, and many ways to fill our leisure. Problems we have plenty of, but we turn to our own collective wisdom to solve these problems. We put our faith in science and our trust in technology. We turn to the doctors for health issues and the banks for financial needs. We have safety nets such as welfare payments, flood insurance and retirement savings to cover nearly any eventuality. We have successfully weaned ourselves from dependence on God. Of course we recite the requisite prayers. Page after page is turned as we murmer paragraph after paragraph from our books. We chant together with our co-worshipers, but real prayer, the heartfelt pleas and beseeching, eludes us.
And yet, we continue to fill the pews of our synagogues on the High Holy days. The days of the most intense and prolonged prayers are the very times more of us choose to subject ourselv