Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Coming Home

Anyone who knows me for even a short time knows that I’m religious. As a result, friends have been known to pass on the names of friends or family members in need of prayer. Some of my friends swear by my prayers and say that Hashem really listens to me.

If you were to look at my prayer book, the first thing you would notice is that one slim section of the white pages that comprise the small fat book is tinged off-white when the closed volume is viewed from the side. That would be the section of my prayer book that contains the Mincha prayer: the short afternoon prayer. It is my long-standing habit to pray the Mincha service.

I made up a WORD document with the names of people who want me to pray for them. The list has headings such as Conception, Refuah (healing), Shalom Bayis (marital harmony), Parnasa (financial well-being), and Shidduch (finding a match), with names under every heading. I even have some esoteric categories such as “Desire Life” and “Simcha” (happiness), according to friends’ requests. I keep this document updated as much as possible. I print out and snip the list into neat columns of paper to insert in my prayer book, in the appropriate sections of the Amida, the silent prayer Jews say three times daily.

I have been known to say my prayers during the long ride to Jerusalem, even though it is preferable to say the Amida while standing. I have said the prayer in a slim hallway at a health clinic, on the bus, backstage during an RYS rehearsal, in the Central Bus Station, in Jerusalem, Hevron, and in Efrat. It seems I am always grabbing my prayer book to say the Mincha prayers at the last possible moment before sundown.

A year ago, I cut out of a parent teacher meeting to daven Mincha when I saw the sun starting to hunker down for the day. But there were people around, parents, and it felt a bit exhibitionist. In an apologetic tone, I explained to another mother that I had a kind of pact with a friend to say Mincha and I had neglected to say it until the last moment, but that she shouldn’t think I was some kind of religious freak. This was the truth: a good friend and I had decided to do our best to pray for each other every day, as a true mark of friendship. We thought that there could be no better expression of our friendship than to pray for each other each day.

Instead of mumbling some vague platitude, the mother at that meeting told me something very cool about Mincha. She couldn’t remember the source for this word of Torah, but she had heard a rabbi say that Hashem loves the Mincha prayer best. It’s only natural to wake up in the morning, see the sunlight, and realize that it’s time to pray the morning prayer. It’s normal to see the sky darken and know that it’s time to say the evening prayer. But there are no markers to tell us that it’s time to daven Mincha. It takes a special kind of dedication to say the afternoon prayer and so Hashem loves this prayer best of all.

At this point in this mother’s recitation, I had to interrupt and explain that the reason I liked to say Mincha best is that it is the shortest in length of the three daily prayer services! I protested that I am no saint. Not by a long shot. Still, I liked that word she told me and I do feel that Hashem really listens to me when I crack open the prayer book.

It doesn’t come easily to me, the knack of prayer. I’m not a Chassid or a touchy-feely emotional kind of gal. I’m of Lithuanian Jewish stock and we are notorious for having dry, cold personalities. But the truth is that I am very moved by my own prayers. Maybe that is why I prefer to pray in a private corner of my home whenever possible. I don’t really like other people to see me in the thrall of my quiet and modest little ecstasies. But I do like my kids to see me like that. I think it’s good for them to see me stop what I’m doing and take the time to pray and acknowledge Hashem.

Alas, as much as all this makes me out, in spite of my protestations, to be some kind of religious freak or saint, I am above all human and filled with the frailty entailed by the human condition. Here’s where the confession comes in: I lost my job and had to move to a new apartment. And just when I should have been praying harder than ever, I lost the habit of praying Mincha.

I didn’t forget about Mincha or prayer. I just couldn’t bring myself back to my former state of commitment. Whenever I’d think about taking up the prayer book, I’d push the vague thought away. I was in the synagogue for the High Holidays, of course. I even davened the sunrise service, one of the first female parishioners to show up for services. But I’d lost my Mincha habit and it nagged at me in a whisper and didn’t leave me alone.

I packed and unpacked all the boxes for the move. I made the new place a home. I sent my resume out wherever I could and tried to keep positive. But I didn’t daven Mincha. I can’t explain why this should have been the case when I should have been praying HARD for a good start in a new home, and praying even harder for a new job.

All I know is that today, I at last managed to get a grip on myself. The time came and I said, “That’s it. I have to start davening Mincha again,” and I dug the book out of the hall bookcase and did my thing. It felt GOOD.

It felt like coming home.


  1. Dear Varda,
    :-) keep the tefillos coming.. will do the same. hope a good job opens up for you soon! love mira