This very moving and personal account of letting go was submitted by CBI’s Hannah Limov. We hope you enjoy it. Rabbi Justin’s six-week serialized sermon, “What is Prayer?”, continues this Shabbat and concludes July 21. For more information, call the CBI office at 828-252-8660
Kneeling on the floor, wrapped in my tallis, I felt something unusual. I was crying. For the first time in a very long time—I cried. While. Praying.
“The purpose of prayer is to ‘round’ oneself… to tumble our souls like gemstones until they shine their brightest.” These were the words said not moments before by Rabbi Justin during his d’var. And in a moment of vulnerability and inspiration, I took his words literally. Suppressing not-so-quiet fears that everyone was going to think I was meshugenah, I knelt with my forehead touching the floor, tallis wrapped entirely around me in a dark cocoon of safety, and slowly—painstakingly slowly— began to speak from my heart.
I have always struggled with Jewish prayer. I never went to Religious School and never learned how to read Hebrew. As such, much of the Siddur always felt off-limits, unknowable to a half-Jew/half-goy like me. Although I had found comfort and inspiration from the prayers we would sing, not knowing what I was praying made my prayers feel empty. A soulless word masquerading as an even more soulless sound.
Over the years and through my many wanderings of the Jewish landscape I have pieced together different meanings of the prayers, and have been able to find comfort in the ones I have come to know well. The redundancy and consistency of the prayers day after day and week after week somehow found their way into my mind— meaning made not from understanding, but from faith that what I was saying in a language I did not know somehow made sense. I guess that was my first experiment with faith. Faith that what I was saying—even if I did not understand it—was enough. Faith that the rituals and prayers of my ancestors still held meaning for me today. And they do. I truly believe they do.
But more and more I have been feeling that it has not been enough. That it is not enough to simply say words I do not know, to speak to my heart in a language it cannot understand, or with words that do not reflect my heart’s longing. I felt safe in the structures and rituals created by generations past, but felt alone in a spiritual world where my heart was not given the space to speak its truth. That as powerful & connecting as tradition was to me as a Jewish woman, my heart and soul needed spontaneity and space to truly feel at home in the world of prayer. To feel that I too could create prayers worthy of living in a siddur.
Rocking back and forth, rounding myself to the floor in my dark tallis cave, I found my fear lessening. Found that the fear I hold deep inside of saying the wrong thing, forming the wrong prayer, feeling like my prayers are never good enough. Never enough. That I am never enough. I found those fears loosening hold. I found that in the space created by the absence of words, my heart, mind, and soul finally began to understand what the prayers had been saying all along: that it does not matter what I know, what I say, or how I say it. All that matters is the intention of my heart, my kavanah. And if I hold onto that, my prayers—and me—will always be enough.
Please, G!d, help me remember that I too deserve to shine brightly. Rachamema, help me remember that I. am. enough. Amen.