By Daniel Bortz
What is Judaism? I’ve heard it described as a religion or a race. More accurately I’ve heard spiritual family. But when I’m asked this question, I answer that Judaism is a relationship. The more I’ve thought about this idea, the more everything we do as Jews comes into focus and radiates with meaning. A mitzvah-commandment is connected to the word tzavta — to connect. Every mitzvah we do; giving charity, making Kiddush, shaking a lulav, hearing the shofar — is an opportunity to deepen our connection and relationship with G-d.
Let’s take a look at tefilah-prayer for example. Why do we pray and why so often? We even pray through the blessings we make on the food and drink we consume throughout the day. Wouldn’t a Yom Kippur service cover it? Is G-d so insecure that he really needs our constant prayers? Why pray if I don’t need anything at the moment?
But once we understand that Judaism is simply a mode of deepening our relationship with the Divine, we begin to understand prayer. Tefilah is connected to the word tofel – to bind. Relationships flourish when there’s a consistent, healthy flow of communication, with an underlying loving intention and care. Sure, we can speak to a loved one once a year, but we shouldn’t expect to feel a deep meaningful connection with so little nurturing of the relationship.
Prayer is for us even more than it is for G-d. He knows already what we need and doesn’t need praise. The praises we say deepen our awareness of His presence and greatness. L’hitpallel-to pray is reflexive; it means to effect internal change, elevating our consciousness first thing in the morning so that our daily activities are in line with our highest potential.
And if we don’t feel that connection through difficult Hebrew prayers, it’s okay to speak with G-d in your own words. There are Hassidim who enter nature every day and converse all their worries and dreams with their Divine friend. Free therapy and the line is open 24/7!
King David really epitomized what a relationship with G-d can be like, what Judaism can be. In one line of his beautiful poetry – the Book of Psalms, he writes: “V’ani Tefilati.” Its literal translation is: “I am Prayer.” King David was describing his mindset. He didn’t pray, learn Torah or perform commandments and then move on to Sports and Netflix. His entire state of being was mindful, yearning upward in growth and devotion to his Divine love.
As lofty as this seems, we can all incorporate a bit of King David’s perspective into our lives. Judaism teaches that G-d isn’t only in the synagogue. In sports and Netflix, nature and travel, relationships and all that life has to offer, we can find purpose and meaning in it. We can elevate every encounter we have with a kind and encouraging word. We can stare out the window of the plane, look up at the stars or at the ocean, and marvel at G-d’s handiwork. The Torah teaches that each detail of life and this world is rooted in Divine creativity and therefore has a lesson to teach us. I’m not into shameless self-promotion, but I’ve dedicated my life to sharing some of these insights, and if you’d like to learn more, visit my website or: Instagram.com/millennialrabbi
May we find inspiration through Jewish teachings and practices to enhance our lives and elevate all that we encounter, deepening our relationship with a Divine, Infinite Being who’s deepest wish is that we take a moment each day to say hello.