Hi everyone. It’s Wednesday. This is the second video I’m recording. I’ve been told
that I need to smile more on camera. I find it a little easier to smile when I’m
at you rather than staring at myself on the screen, but I’m still getting used to this business of recording myself, so please hang in there with me these first few times!
By way of an update, I’m hoping that by later today we’ll have the technology to start offering classes, services, and other programs remotely. We’ll be sending out details as soon as their finalized, but I’m really excited, as I’m sure you are, for us to be able to start engaging a bit more like a community again.
The topic of my video today is “A Place to Pray,” which might sound strange, since that’s exactly what we’re missing as a community that can’t gather in our normal place of prayer.
Jewish practice emphasizes the importance of having a
place for prayer, even as individuals. One’s individual spot is called a מקום קבוע — a fixed location. That isn’t so different from the way that many of us find ourselves a special place or corner of the room or chair for meditation, or journaling, or yoga, or playing an instrument — anything that requires a higher level of focus and mental clarity.
We’ll soon be connecting again for services, but we’re each going to be at home, or wherever we choose to be, so the question right now is how to pick a מקום קבוע, a fixed and special place for prayer outside the synagogue.
If we had a place in our home with inherent sanctity, for example that held a Torah scroll, that would be the first natural choice. That doesn’t apply to me, or most of us,
so here are a few other things to think about.
The place that we pray should be clean with no bad odors, and it should be tidy with no unnecessary distractions. It’s wonderful to have a table or a ledge or a corner of the room where you can place objects that might help you get in the right mindset for prayer.
Here’s an example of what I set up for myself this week. My spot is the corner of our family room. I brought a couple books for religious study. For me, there’s a certain feeling that I get having sacred texts around me, even if they aren’t a Torah scroll.
Next to them is a painting that I did years ago of a view of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Then I have my personal prayer book together with my tallit and tefillin.
And last, an orchid that I bought on Tu biShvat.
When you think of choosing a spot for yourself, the other thing to keep in mind is direction. Jews all over the world prayer toward Jerusalem and more specifically
toward the Temple Mount, and even more specifically toward the spot where the Holy of Holies once stood, which incidentally, was roughly the point over which the Dome of the Rock stands today.
What that means for us in the US is that we pray facing East. Depending on where we are in the world, we could find ourselves praying south or north or west if that’s the direction toward the Holy of Holies.
That means a couple things. One is that the place that used to be the central location
and place of pilgrimage for the entire people of Israel really still is — all of our prayers, offered anywhere in the world, are directed there. We stay connected to that powerful energetic axis.When we bow, we’re bowing toward the place that our ancestors imagined as a meeting place of heaven and earth.
The other thing that it means, and this was pointed out to me by my teacher, Rabbi Ebn Leader, is that Jews are essentially praying in a circle, in a circle that envelopes the entire planet. When you think about the Jews in North America, and South America,
in Western and Eastern Europe, in East Asia, and Australia, and India, and South Africa,
Ethiopia, North Africa, etc. all facing toward Jerusalem, we make a big circle, we’re facing toward each other.
So even in these moments, when it feels like you’re praying alone, we’re actually all praying and singing and expressing ourselves together.
For that reason, when you’re choosing your spot, look for an eastern wall. If you have a window, it’ll mean that you can see the sun rising during morning prayers.
We have a piece of art here with the word, מזרח which means east. It’s a traditional way of marking the eastern wall for prayer, but any other image that beautifies that spot and helps you focus will work.
One last comment:
Something else that will help us pray together is a text!
Looking forward to praying with you very soon!