I find it so difficult to concentrate in prayer. I think the hardest part about it for me is that when I stop to pray I feel weighed down by either the things I’ve recently been busy with or the things I want to accomplish later. So I struggle to quiet my mind for that short time.
I read recently in Miriam Kosman’s book, “Circle Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism”, that it’s a male quality to want to do and a female quality to want to be. I must be very manly because all I want to do is produce, perform and execute. I find it much more difficult to develop, nurture and be mindful.
Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 49 that prayer is an aspect of the divine-feature Royalty (מלכות). King David who embodied this divine-feature sang of himself (Psalms 109:4), “and I am [all] prayer”. The divine feature of Royalty is a feminine aspect of God, so based on the above understanding, King David is claiming that he’s satisfied being in the state of prayer. He doesn’t need to go out and shout victory over his opponents. He’s not thinking about the future as he’s praying. He’s not itching to get-on to the next thing. He genuinely feels complete with just praying. This is an attribute of humility, because in order to fully rely on God, we need to hand over the reigns to Him. If we don’t entirely let go of the control, then at least a part of us will need some action other than prayer.
The Rebbe then goes on to teach (in a most amazing way, that’s sadly too complicated for this short article) that Teshuva – Coming back to God – is lifting ourselves back up to this type of Royalty. You see in the beginning of the lesson he speaks about positive thoughts and negative thoughts. The negative thoughts create evil realities and weaken the feature of Royalty. Teshuva is when we elevate the Royalty back to its place. (As the Zohar says, תשובה is the same letters as ‘תשוב ‘ה, which means to return the letter ה back to its place. The letter ה represents Royalty). According to how we’re learning Royalty, as a feminine, nurturing and present space, Teshuva is releasing ourselves from our need to move forward. Obviously many times that means curtailing our immoral passions. But I’m referring to something more profound. Coming back to God means humbling ourselves and realizing that we’ve been so macho-like, trying to perform and accomplish. Of course we mean well and He wants us to try in every way possible to succeed. But ultimately there is nothing happening outside His dominion. When it’s time to come back to God, there’s nothing else to do. There’s no life outside of His life-force. So it’s time to let go and just be, as hard as that is for some of us. We need to put down our phones, quiet our minds and be present in the moment.
This explains the Mishna that says “The first pious ones used to wait an hour before they prayed”. Maimonides says they did this to quiet their mind. Many of us feel we don’t have that extra time and we’re probably right. But there are other techniques to help. Try keeping a finger on the place or try saying the words out loud and melodically. But most importantly, when we step into synagogue – or into our own private space to pray – we need to recognize very clearly that we’ve just set aside time to leave our world and enter God’s world. Let’s take a look at our watch. Give ourselves X minutes and make them count. I want to stress that nobody at all cares if we finish all the words. It’s not a race, so what’s the rush? We anyways committed to being here. So let’s quiet our minds and be active in our prayers. Let’s try hard to make each word meaningful. It’s my prayer that we can all attain this peace of mind and trust in God. This will elevate our own Royalty and His Royalty so we can merit to unite with the true King on the glorious day of His coronation, Rosh Hashana.