I feel strange about coming to the High Holidays with my list of requests for G-d. These are supposed to be the Days of Awe, when we recognize G-d’s rulership and pray for a perfected world. How can I show up with my individual needs that seem so insignificant compared to global issues? And if I do focus on myself, shouldn’t I stick to character improvement and what I need to fix? Otherwise, it seems like I am praying for a withdrawal from a big ATM in the sky.
-Feeling Petty in Prayer
Dear Feeling Petty in Prayer,
First of all, I appreciate your spiritual sensitivity, and I suggest that you call yourself “Feeling Profound in Prayer” because your question addresses the fundamental core of prayer. But to answer it, we first need to ask another question (it’s a Jewish thing): Why are we even here in the first place? Answering that can give us a deeper appreciation of why we pray.
We are here on a mission from G-d, who lovingly chose each one of our souls to live in a physical body on earth. Our job? To transform our space into something better and more G-dly. Divine Providence guides us: every person we meet, every situation we encounter, is an opportunity to fulfill this mission. Ultimately, the culmination of all of our collective work throughout history will be a perfected world.
But the soul enters this world with no supplies for her mission. And G-d does not want us to be passive. As His partners, we need to tell Him what we need for our health, livelihood, and family so we can fulfill our goal to lead a meaningful, moral life and change the world.
On Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of the prophet Chana, from whom we learn how to pray. Chana beseeched G-d for a child and “I shall dedicate him to G-d all the days of his life“. Whatever we ask of G-d is to aid us in our mission on earth. A perfected prayer experience puts us in a position of partner, not supplicant.
G-d is asking us, “What do you need this year to fulfill your mission on earth?” Prayer is our answer to that question, and it includes the spiritual and the seemingly mundane. It is our supply list for life, and we need it to do our job. So go ahead and bring earth up to heaven by telling G-d your needs. And may G-d bring heaven down to earth by answering your request and blessing you—and all the world—with a good, sweet New Year!
Rabbi Yossi Yaffe, Chabad of the Shoreline