Awareness: The Morning Blessings
The service begins with a series of blessings. Each of these blessings is constructed to awaken our awareness of the extraordinary blessing of being a living, breathing, self-aware human being. Recognition of the precious gift of a human birth is the starting point for the process of revealing the diamond within.
Gratitude and Appreciation: The Psalms
There is much light and beauty in our world. Miracles are happening at every moment of every day. God’s Hand moves ceaselessly amid the events of our lives, if only we have the eyes to see the traces of His fingerprints. The words of the Psalms articulate the awe and wonder we experience when we witness God’s Living Presence enter into our lives. They express our joy and gratitude for the many gifts we receive from the bounty of the natural world.
Recognition of God and the Good
[Nishmat Kol Chai and Ilu Phinu Maleh Shirah Kayam]
We ask a lot of God. We are quick to complain when we feel that the world is not as we wish it to be. Yet there are so many blessings that God unconditionally bestows upon us. In fact, we have received in such abundance that there is no way for us repay our debt. Humanity has been given everything that it needs to make life on this planet fulfilling and meaningful. We need to focus our energies on the blessings that we have received, and strive to bring these Divine gifts to fruition.
Light – Affirmation – Love: The Shema
The Shema is not just a prayer; it is the central affirmation of our faith. Through the words of the Shema we connect ourselves to a three thousand five hundred year old aspiration which has been energized by the Will of God. By reciting this prayer, we draw on this reservoir of immense spiritual power. We link ourselves to the great chain of souls who have dedicated their lives to fulfilling its vision.
LOVE AND ONENESS: THESE TWO IDEAS LIE AT THE HEART OF JUDAISM.
There are two powerful ideas that are embodied in the Shema. The first idea is Oneness. The first line of the Shema proclaims: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” God is One and everything that exists is part of that Oneness. We are all bound together and interdependent. We are all part of a single “body” and consciousness.
The second great idea is Love. The first line of the first paragraph of the Shema declares: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your might.” Love is the pathway that will lead us to Oneness. Love is the glue that will bind us all together. Love is the power which will fuse humanity into one united whole that works together in harmony and peace.
Because of the centrality of the Shema, the text of the prayer is preceded by two brachot or blessings that prepare us to enter into this moment of affirmation.
First Blessing: Light
If there is a special language that belongs to prayer, it is the language of light. It is through the metaphor of light that we can approach God and surround ourselves with His Presence. Just as the sun’s light gives us physical illumination, God’s light illuminates our souls. We ourselves are beings of light. It is to the light that we aspire, and it is from Divine light that our essence has been formed.
Second Blessing: Love
The practice of prayer is intimately bound up with the attribute of love. It is the power of God’s love that draws us towards Him. It is love for God that motivates us to turn to Him in prayer.
Love is the foundation stone of our relationship with God. Love nurtures our soul. Love builds our inner strength and develops our individual will. It is through love that we touch God’s Infinite and Eternal Heart.
SURROUNDED BY GOD’S LIGHT AND IMMERSED IN GOD’S LOVE WE RECITE THE SACRED WORDS OF THE SHEMA
Third Blessing: Liberation
Once we have integrated the words of the Shema into our being, we are liberated into the freedom of the Spiritual Realm. Our heart and mind soar into the higher worlds as we enter into profound communion with God.
Communion: The Shemonei Esrai or Amidah [Standing Prayer]
After the recitation of the Shema we are ready to commune with God. This is the time for heart-to-heart talk. This is the moment when we truly stand before God.
In the special Shabbat amidah, we stand on Mount Sinai like Moses. We ask God to sanctify our lives with Divine service. We ask Him to show us our place in the Divine Plan. We ask to be filled with God’s infinite Goodness. We ask to experience the joy of His redeeming Hand. We ask God to purify our hearts so that we can service Him with sincerity and truth.
Prayer is an extraordinary miracle. When we pray, we are attempting to communicate with the One Who has given life to everything that exists. We are addressing a Consciousness which encompasses the thoughts and emotions of every living creature. Yet we can make contact with that Infinite Mind, and enter into an intimate dialogue with Him. Prayer is a very precious gift.
Contemplation: The Word of God – Torah Reading
The Word of God is revealed to us through the pages of the Holy Scriptures. The Word of God is revealed through our daily lives. God is speaking to us through the words of the Torah. God is speaking to us through the ordinary events of our lives. We need only open our hearts and listen to the still, small voice which is calling inside.
In this section of the prayer service, we concentrate on listening to the Word of God – on hearing God speaking to us. We are now ready to receive the Divine message. We are now prepared for our inner diamond to radiate into our lives.
Tikkun Olam and Oneness: Aleinu
By the time we reach the conclusion of the prayer service, we have come to realize the unity of all peoples, and the Divinity of all human beings. We recognize that each of us has a priceless gem hidden within us. We all reflect the light of God’s image.
Once our inner diamond is illumined with Divine power, an intense desire to serve awakens in our heart. We feel compelled to try and relieve the suffering we see around us. We are drawn to act wherever there is a need. We are filled with a deep yearning to repair and uplift the world.
We are now conscious of our own Divine nature. We are immersed in a profound sense of wholeness and peace. Our entire being is permeated with inner contentment and sublime joy. We feel at one with the world and with ourselves.
Building the Inner Temple: The Musaf or Additional Prayer
In the Torah Exodus 25:8, God commands the Children of Israel: “Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell in your midst.” The Baal Shem Tov explains that we are that sanctuary. Each of us is a miniature temple where a living spark of God dwells. The Musaf prayer is an opportunity for us to purify the negativity from our temple. It is a moment to reflect on the sacrifices we are willing to make, so that our inner diamond can shine forth into the world.
The Shabbat prayers are a gateway to inner experience, a spiritual process by which we clean and polish the jewel in our heart. Each week, we strive to return the Divine luster to our personal diamond. Each week, we strive to connect to our true Self.