D’var Torah: Parshat Pinchas – Finding Meaning in Prayer
In this week’s parsha, after Moshe is told that he is about to die, he prays. “Let the Lord, source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.”
Why do we pray? I have been praying most of my life and have often struggled with this question.
Do I pray because I expect a response?
Do I pray because I expect God’s intervention in my life?
Do I pray in a community not because I believe the prayer does anything but because I believe that expressing my feelings, needs, desires and fears with others provides me with support and strength?
Do I pray because the act of meditation and introspection helps me find a path forward?
Do I pray to express gratitude, to acknowledge the gifts and blessings in my life?
Do I pray to express my wonder and awe of the world, of creation, of my mortality and my smallness?
Do I pray because it connects me to my people’s history and makes me feel a part of something bigger and more important than myself?
I have answered yes and no to all of these questions throughout my life; sometimes I’ve answered them differently on the same day – even during the same service.
Moshe had known for some time that he was going to die and would not be able to enter the land. When he uttered this prayer, he was feeling anxiety and desperation because he did not know who was going to continue his work of leading the people, of caring for them and helping them in their journey.
“And the Lord answered Moshe….”
In the Torah, Moshe has one-on-one conversations with God. He is literally answered. God tells Moshe whom to appoint and how to appoint him. But we aren’t Moshe, and the Torah tells us there will never be a prophet like Moshe who speaks directly to God. How can our prayers be answered?
I am not ashamed to say that I struggle with believing in and understanding God and with the relevance and value of prayer. I think this is normal.
Why do I pray? At different times, I feel that praying brings me different results.
When we pray together at camp on Friday night, I feel a source of power and strength that brings me happiness and calm.
When I pray silently, there are times that I feel heard; I am able to reflect and sometimes the way forward becomes clearer.
When we pray together in joyous song, I feel great energy and togetherness.
When I pray silently, sometimes I feel like I get a load off my chest, even unburdened.
When we pray together and we answer mourner’s kaddish, I feel I am supporting others.
When I pray silently, I sometimes count my blessings and express gratitude.
When we pray together about God and the power of nature, I wonder about life’s big mysteries.
When I pray silently, I sometimes express hope for things to be better and fear of what might not improve. I even express anger and frustration about what happens to others and to me.
God answers Moshe’s prayer and tells him precisely who should succeed him – Joshua – and how to make the transition. The Torah expresses this as a conversation. I picture it differently. I picture Moshe having been in silent prayer for a period of days, weeks or months, worried about Israel’s future. He meditated, asked and thought about it for a long while. I think it is more likely that finally, one day, it became clear to him that Joshua was the answer.
I don’t know for sure if God is answering me or even is present when I pray. Often, however, I experience something that makes me feel better, supported, clearer and energized. When praying with a community these feelings are often magnified. Not everyone will experience prayer in the same way. Everyone will experience prayer differently at different times. I do believe that the more we engage in prayer, the more often we will find meaning in the experience. This month I pray that all of us find meaning in the time we pray individually or together. Shabbat Shalom.