Rosh Hashannah Day 1 – Does G-d Hear the Prayers of a Deaf Mute

By: Larry Tobin

As we all spend this time together striving to get written and sealed into the Book of Life for a good year, let’s take a few moments to evaluate our acts over the prior year. Can we do better this year?  Did we follow the three-prong test to success? Repentance, prayer and acts of righteousness will remove the bad decree.  Today I’d like to focus on one of these three prongs; namely, prayer. Simple, yet so complex. How can we successfully pray? Will our prayers be received well by our Maker? Given the potential of not performing prayer well, shouldn’t we want to pray well?

Clearly, most people pray on occasion. Sometimes we just need to have a chat with G-d. More often, we want or need something. Sometimes we face dire times. Where else can we turn for help? Perhaps we even take the time occasionally to praise G-d and thank Him. Yes, we do pray.

So, why the reluctance to attend services throughout the year? And why the disdain for prayers laid out in the Siddur? It’s hard I know to drag yourself to the synagogue throughout the year to listen to the same stuff over and over again. Perhaps you feel that you have better things to do with your time. Also, why come to pray when you don’t feel like praying? After all, don’t you pray when you feel like it or when the need arises?

Okay, I understand that the prayers are written in Hebrew, except for the occasional prayer read in somewhat archaic English. And you don’t speak Hebrew, let alone understand it. How can one have feeling for something not understood? What is gained by saying a bunch of mumbo jumbo? How paradoxical that we are going to rely in part on this mumbo jumbo today to try to guarantee us a good year next year.

Now, back to my title.  Does G-d Hear the Prayers of a Deaf Mute?  I suspect that most, if not all, of us would agree that G-d certainly does not abandon the deaf mute. Doesn’t this suggest that successful praying may not lie in what we say? Or even in our ability to say it. Even silent prayer and prayer that is not understood, I contend, can be successful prayer.

Let’s take things a little further.  What about the prayers of the Hara Krishna or other groups that chant?Do their efforts constitute prayer? Wait a minute. Don’t we also chant? Don’t we sing prayer songs with da-da-das and ay-yai-yais in place of words?  If you have ever attended a Duchan service, you have listened to the mystical chanting of the Kohanim. Thus, chanting, words without meaning, and other forms of apparent mumbo jumbo can be justified as prayer.

Therefore, it would seem that prayer is not reliant on what you say or even on how you say it. So, what is the key to successful prayer? This key lies in Kavanah.  Kavanah is a spiritual intensity that one should try to reach when praying to raise the mundane to the elevated status of prayer.  This is most difficult to achieve and should not be taken lightly. If you can reach this level by saying words that mean little or nothing to you, then more power to you. If you can reach these heights by merely chanting, then chantaway with all your heart. Like the deaf mute who can neither hear nor speak, feel your prayers. This is how you demonstrate intensity and Kavanah. Sing your prayers loudly and proudly. Don’t be bashful. I’m not aware of any Rabbi complaining that people pray too fervently. The bounds of Kavanah are virtually endless. Have feeling. Show feeling. And it wouldn’t hurt to take some time to study the prayers being recited from the Siddur to better understand them and appreciate their essence. How nice it is that prayer mavens took the time to develop for us a system of routine prayer that allows us to pray together.

In closing, allow me to wish all of you a good year and a good decree. May your prayers in the coming  year be as intense as your zeal for life.

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