Be-Hukkotai: A helpful reminder.

A few blessings, but many curses.  That’s the count in this week’s Torah portion, Be-Hukkotai (combined with Behar outside Israel).

And that’s how our lives sometimes – perhaps often – seem.  Especially when we are dealt a blow, or blows, and we seem to be “down for the count” … of curses. 

For those with clinical depression, professional help is required.  But for the rest of us, the best “prescription” is to frequently -- daily -- count our blessings.  How? Prayer

Unfortunately, prayer is not something that, for most of us, comes naturally…if we can pray at all.  For many (non-Orthodox) Jews, ritual prayers -- in Hebrew -- are not well understood and are seldom felt.  

I can speak from personal experience.  As a child, I attended a large Reform synagogue with a well-established religious school, and did well.  I attended a Jewish sleep-away camp for many consecutive summers, even becoming a “C.I.T.” (counselor-in-training).  After becoming Bar Mitzvah, I was active in Jewish youth groups and served as a Jewish day camp counselor.  I "knew" the songs and the usual Friday night, Saturday morning, and holiday prayers ... although not really what they meant or why we were saying them.

So, … did I actually pray?  Since I don't recall feeling any differently after prayer than before, the honest answer is "no."   

Many years later, after losing interest in religion (although not in my Jewish cultural identity), I reversed course and eventually decided to apply to rabbinical school.  During my first telephone inquiry, the admissions rabbi said: 

“Tell me about your daily prayer ritual.”  

Daily prayer ritual?  Didn’t have and never had.  

“Fast” forward to this morning.  I woke up late, shortly before morning minyan would start at the schul a 5-minute walk from my Jerusalem apartment. 

I was still tired.  Why not sleep in?  No one would miss me.  

I didn’t feel religiously obligated to go.  Although I am Shomer Shabbat (no working, driving, cooking, or turning electricity on or off), I’m not motivated by a sense of Divine Commandment.  No one was "making me" go. 

I’d need to delay breakfast, and I was hungry. 

Casting those thoughts (and my yetzer ha'ra) aside with the blanket, I got dressed and went, knowing that I’d be glad that I did. And afterwards, I was. 

Praying makes me feel good.  It reminds me of the many blessings I enjoy, and that I should neither forget nor take for granted. 

Certainly, there are many additional reasons to pray daily, especially, in a community. (After prayers this morning, I made two new acquaintances.  Perhaps tomorrow, if they don’t see me, I will be missed).  But among all the reasons, strengthening one’s sense of gratitude, reminding oneself of blessings, and keeping troubles in perspective, are important and powerful benefits of daily prayer.  

Even if you don’t believe in a G-d who bestows blessings and metes out curses, -- or in any G-d at all -- you can experience the power and benefits of gratitude by reminding yourself of your many blessings every day...and by being specific.  

Our sages -- meaning they were wise -- surely had this in mind when they wrote the daily blessings and prescribed their recitation (supplemented by many others totaling no fewer than 100 throughout the day).

After all, to pray -- להתפלל (l’hitpalel) -- is a reflexive verb in Hebrew.   

Daily prayer is a great habit.  The traditional (or revised) “morning blessings” only take a minute or two to say.  (Don’t know the words? Ask any rabbi, including, if you wish, me by emailing me at rabbiartlevine@gmail.com).  

Isn’t starting each day feeling blessed and grateful worth two minutes?  

Shabbat shalom, and many blessings (even though you already have them) from Jerusalem!

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