Friday, September 9, 2011

It's The Pray-er, Not The Prayer

Parshat Ki Tetzei
10 Elul, 5771
September 9th, 2011

We need to talk about the difference between magic and prayer. It’s important. In a few weeks we’re all going to be spending a lot of time together, saying prayer after prayer. We should know what we’re doing.
Behind magic is the will to power. It is the idea that if I say these words, in the right order, with the right emphasis (winGARDium leviOsa), I will make something extraordinary happen. In magic, it is in my control to fulfill my desires.
Prayer is the opposite. Its essence is that the fulfillment of my desires are in Another’s control. It is the acknowledgment that I cannot force the world to do my bidding. Behind prayer is the acceptance of vulnerability.
Now magic sounds a whole lot cooler, which is why we love Harry Potter. Prayer has only the poor pedigree of being true to the human condition. To ask sincerely for what we need, yet understand that we need help in the fulfillment thereof is beautiful and human.
This difference goes beyond theory. If synagogue was a magical place, all that would matter is the recitation of the right words in the right order. Because it is a prayerful place, vulnerability is far more important than words.
Forget your mahzor, bring your sincerity to shul. It’s the pray-er, not the prayer.

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