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Redacted from portions of To Pray as a Jew
By Rabbi Hayim Halevi Donin
Basic Books 1980
In the Jewish tradition prayers and blessings are not confined to the synagogue or limited to the formal religious service. Though sanctuaries are built and set aside as special places for prayer, we do not believe that the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence, is restricted only to such places. God’s abode is the entire universe.
“Thus said the Lord: The heaven is my throne and the earth is My footstool; is there a house that you can build for Me, is there a place that can be My abode?” (Is. 66:1). If God commanded the Israelites to “make for Me a sanctuary” (Exod. 25:8), it was not for Him to dwell in it, but so that he could dwell “in their midst.” The language of Torah is very precise and revealing. The purpose of the sanctuary was not to house the Divine Presence, but to create an environment that would allow His spirit to penetrate the community and be reflected in the life of the people.
The synagogue is indeed vested with greater holiness than are other places, and the sages made it abundantly clear that they regarded it as the preferred place for prayer. While not discounting the enthusiasm shown for praying in the synagogue, the Talmud is equally clear that a prayer service may be held anywhere.
The only places where prayer is forbidden are places identified with idolatry or sexual lewdness, or places that are foul smelling or in sight of excrement. A hazardous place is also unsuitable for prayer. No one who has ever prayed in the splendid isolation of nature, where hills and valleys, forests and fields, skies and oceans provide inspirational testimony to God’s handiwork, can ever again think of the synagogue as the only place suitable for prayer.
But of all places outside the synagogue where Jewish prayer may take place, the home is first in importance. Like the synagogue, the Jewish home has also been described as a “small sanctuary.” There too does the Divine Presence dwell. Aside from those times when one prays privately at home because one cannot be at the synagogue there are many prayers and blessings that were from their inception intended to be said at home.
… Jews are to take special pains to make sure and pray after their meals not just when they are hungry. It often happens that when people are comfortable and their basic needs are met they turn away from God. This is precisely what troubled Moses when he instructed the Israelites to follow the commandment to bless God after eating.
Moses expressed his concern: Take care lest you forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments . . . lest when you will eat and be sated and will build fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks will multiply and your silver and gold will increase, and everything you own will prosper. Beware, lest your heart grow haughty and you then forget the Lord your God … and you say to yourselves “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” (WRONG)
(I just came upon these passages and was struck by their pertinence perhaps because I see so much of this arrogant secularism around me and sometimes in my own family and it annoys and frightens me.
I can only pray that it does not annoy my G-d who is able to take it all away with one incidental gesture and allow instead, the burning bush to be consumed) jsk
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