When we open our souls in prayer, we open our hearts to a Divine relationship. Not only that, we open our minds to a type of decision-making, where we take ownership and responsibility for our own lives. While seemingly an effortless task, the process of prayer requires a lot of work: it takes listening, fine-tuning, meditating, learning, and re-creating the conscious self. This is certainly not easy, but the results pay dividends. With only one life to live, we must reclaim this deliberate existence: our own existence in service of a lofty heavenly mission and a pragmatic earthly task.
The Kotzker Rebbe asked: “If the heavenly gates of tears are never closed, why are there gates at all?” I’d humbly like to propose an answer to this thoughtful question. I’d suggest they’re a mere projection of the gates around our own hearts. Who among us has not experienced pain and been numbed and hardened by the world?
In removing barriers from our hearts, we can meaningfully support others. A person who is suffering is like a burning temple waiting to have the fire put out; to be rebuilt with love. It is an imperative to rebuild our inner palaces, those that have become fenced off. We can do it each day! It only takes perspicacity and grit to strive for this lofty goal to be achieved.
We also must learn the proper balance in our lives between pragmatic life and spiritual life. Ever feel like at every moment you’re urgently called above toward spirituality and below toward pressing human pursuits? Yehuda Amichai—the Israel Prize winning poet—articulates this challenge well:
And angels above
At one and the same time
They call me
With a terrible voice.
I’m coming, I am
I’m coming down,
I’m coming up!
There is no perfect objective balance; it is relative to each of our lives; we must learn to trust ourselves. The great mussar teacher, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, asked “Who is the best Torah commentator?” Rashi? Ramban? No! Rav Yerucham suggested it’s You! Torah only works if we construct personal meaning, own it and internalize it. So too, spiritual navigation works only when we cultivate the inner world, when we take the time to tend to our souls, and we learn to trust our inner Godliness. We still need spiritual teachers and guides, but ultimately we must become our own teachers and guides as well living by faith, conscience, and inspiration. No one can inspire us if our hearts and souls aren’t open to inspiration.
Thus it is important to embrace the notion that our spiritual decisions may not “make sense.” Prayer doesn’t mock our sense of reason, it transcends our reason! It is this access to a deeper truth that makes it possible for us to live a spiritual life in a temporal world.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of eight books on Jewish ethics.