A Guide to Jewish Spirituality
By Avraham Weiss
Avraham Weiss is not only a prestigious and highly respected rabbi but also a sensitive and caring person. This is reflected in his book on prayer, which should be read. His book is readable, moving, and informative. It has three parts: goals of prayer, why set a specific time for prayer, and spirituality. Each part, in turn, is divided into three chapters, such as the first part comprising responsibility, reliance, and feeling God’s presence. And each chapter is introduced with a poignant and thought-provoking tale.
He introduces chapter one, for example, with the following story: “Two friends were discussing some of the more difficult issues of life. One said, ‘Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice, when He could do something about it.’ The other replied, ‘Well, why don’t you ask him?’ The response came quickly: ‘Because I am afraid that God might ask me the same question.’”
Rabbi Weiss tells readers, “The purpose of this book is to help inspire greater meaning in prayer.” He explains that the Jewish prayer book, the Siddur, does not contain a single Jewish ideology; it “reflects varying philosophical approaches” to Judaism and “to prayer itself,” but this is good, because it “also serves as a guidebook to Judaism’s most fundamental concepts.” His book “draws heavily from sources outside the Siddur in order” to make all of this clear “in a sophisticated manner while, at the same time, transmitting wisdom in ways that are accessible and uplifting.” He does this by mentioning “biblical passages, contemporary works, personal anecdotes, and stories illustrative of the book’s many themes.”
He distinguishes “tefilla,” the Hebrew word for prayer, as being actually “the opposite of prayer. Tefilla is holistic – integrating the whole of the human being with all of creation and with the Creator Himself.” Tefilla, he explains and shows how, is based on a Hebrew root that means “twisting or wrestling.” Tefilla “involves a complete entanglement of one’s self with another – with the Other.” He writes, “Tefilla is not about superficially reciting word, it’s about internalizing them” and he tells us how to do it. And he writes, Tefilla “is an experience of unity, of blending together different component parts.” It “is a song, a melody, a word, a sound, silence, murmuring – all coming together. It is a smile, a tear, a hope, a sigh; standing, rising, lifting hands; swaying, dancing, sitting, falling – all coming together. It is a conversation, talking, listening, serious, light, laughing, imploring, demanding, evaluating, and improving – all coming together.”
This is how this sensitive and caring rabbi sees Jewish prayer. No review can adequately present the many insights that this book contains. I highly recommend that readers acquire Rabbi Weiss’s book and learn the lessons it contains.