Latest update: May 21st, 2013
My column on prayer last week touched sensitive chords in many hearts. It is apparent that in our troubled times people are struggling with the entire concept of prayer. Does it really work? Is there Someone listening, or is it a waste of time?
I will share two stories that shed some illumination on the subject. To protect the privacy of all involved, I have used pseudonyms.
Arthur lived in the community where my husband, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, was the rabbi. He was a member of a Reform temple and we had never met him until the day he came knocking at our door.
“Rabbi,” he said, his voice filled with emotion, “my wife has been diagnosed with cancer. It’s very serious and she is scheduled for surgery. I am coming to you because you are a man of G-d and I need a miracle.”
My husband, in his usual caring, loving way, invited him in and put his arm around him, indicating he was there for him. “Miracles,” he explained in his gentle voice, “are all around us – the entire world is one big miracle. So now we have to appeal to G-d for yet another miracle – the miracle of refuah sheleimah – the blessing of healing.”
“That’s it, Rabbi! That’s exactly what we need. How do we make it happen? I’m ready to do whatever it takes.”
“Let’s start with your own and your wife’s Jewish names.”
Arthur searched his mind and finally said “I am Avraham and my wife, Lisa, is Leah.”
My husband proceeded to explain to him the significance and power in our Jewish names. Arthur was overwhelmed and repeated, “So let’s make it happen, Rabbi. Tell me what I have to do.”
“We have a threefold formula that gives us access to G-d’s direct line and puts us through to His inner chamber,” said my husband. “It’s as simple as that.”
Arthur was listening with rapt attention and my husband explained that this formula is public knowledge. “It’s announced for all to hear during the High Holiday services: “Teshuvah (repentance) tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity)… have the power to annul all evil decrees, and that, Avraham, is our direct line to G-d.”
Arthur’s face registered disappointment. He had thought there was some magic potion that would do the trick and cure Lisa. Nevertheless, to his credit he once again said, “I’m ready to do whatever it takes.”
“Easy,” my husband said gently, “I will explain it all. Teshuvah means rediscovering our roots, reconnecting to our heritage, coming home to our G-d. So let’s start with just a few steps in that direction: Welcome Shabbos into your home; the Rebbetzin will teach Leah the blessings over the Shabbos lights and how to make a festive Shabbos table. It will illuminate your home with serenity and joy. And on Shabbos morning you will join us in shul.”
Arthur looked upset.
“Don’t worry, I will show you the way,” my husband assured him. “In no time at all, you will pick it all up. It’s part of your genes, your DNA, from the genesis of time.”
“Now wait a minute, Rabbi,” he said. “This won’t work for us! Saturday is always the day I golf and Lisa goes to the beauty parlor and does her shopping. We both work the rest of the week. So this just doesn’t fit into our schedule.”
“I understand,” my husband assured him. “It will most certainly require a change in your lifestyle, but your Jewish name, Avraham, will stand you in good stead. He was our Patriarch who taught mankind the meaning of G-d. He was a trailblazer. Unafraid, he went against all odds and moved mountains and hills for the sake of our Creator. No matter what sacrifices were demanded of him, he remained undaunted and fulfilled his mission.
“It all may sound overwhelming, but your Jewish name will energize you. You will see, this will be a piece of cake – a piece of cake that once you taste you will come to love. It’s there, on your table; you need only try it.”
Avraham and Leah embarked on their new journey with the basics of Shabbos, but it didn’t stop there. Soon my husband kashered their home and I took Leah to the mikveh for the first time in her life.
Tefillah, prayer, also became part of their lives. My husband introduced them to the sacred words our ancestors whispered to G-d – words that throughout the ages kept us connected to our Heavenly Father.
My husband also taught Avraham how to put on tefillin and explained that they are our unique “transmitters,” linking our hearts and minds to G-d.
As for the third aspect of the formula, that was easy enough. Tzedakah, charity, has become very much a part of our American Jewish life.
Throughout this time my husband was very careful to remind Arthur and Lisa that while the threefold formula of teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah are the very best way to reach G-d, we must bear in mind that we have no guarantees. While we can pray, supplicate and beseech the Almighty, we cannot dictate to Him. We cannot tell Him what to do.
There are times when, despite everything, G-d responds with a “no” and we accept His decision with equanimity, faith and love. Our belief in His goodness and mercy is never diminished. We realize that finite beings cannot comprehend His ways. No matter how dense the darkness, we cling to our G-d, asking Him to hold our hands and help us see the light
My husband always made a point of explaining this to newly involved Jews to prevent disillusionment and disappointment that could cause loss of faith and abandonment of Torah. Time and again we would emphasize that we are G-d’s children, His servants, His subjects. We can plead but never dictate; we can pray but never demand. Humbly we stand before His presence and proclaim His praise.
No matter what befalls us – whether we are in Auschwitz or Jerusalem, illness or health, wealth or poverty – our faith in G-d remains immutable. We are Jews and we go forth on our journey in life with His Holy Name emblazoned on our hearts.
It is with these words and these thoughts that my husband and I tried to prepare Avraham and Leah for the pain and uncertainty they would have to deal with at Sloan Kettering.
(To be Continued)
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