I Lost My Blankie…Err…My Tallit

“Where IS IT?”

In preparation for my upcoming nuptials to the lovely Shakhar bat David, I recently found an apartment even closer to our neighborhood synagogue – a charming 2-bedroom place in the extremely hip Cherry Street District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. This meant I needed to move a whopping 4 blocks from my rag-tag bachelor pad in the same area. Because it was only 4 blocks and I’m a simple fella, I just threw everything in the back of my hatchback and made trips back and forth till I was eventually moved. Being that the new apartment wasn’t quite ready and it was snowing HARD during the move, my move was…well…less than methodical. I basically tossed all of my belongings in Rubbermaid tubs and hefty garbage bags in order to move it from point A to point B. Because of this, some of my more crucial belongings were not immediately found…my tallit (prayer shawl) and siddur (prayer book).

This normally wouldn’t be as big a deal for some people, but, being that my prayer schedule is really the only thing that keeps this almost frightfully ADHD kid (…oh, look…a squirrel…) even somewhat focused, I had the most out-of-it week imaginable.

I’m not sure why I couldn’t find my tallit and siddur, but I just couldn’t! Every box I overturned and trip to my car with a flash light turned up with bunk. How could it have gotten lost? I only moved 4 blocks! I did my best to pray with other books I had and other tallits, but there’s just something about using your tallit that makes it…well…that makes it feel right – feel like home. Shakhar was wondering why I seemed a little bit out of it this last Shabbat. The best I could do is to describe what it felt like on the inside by relating it on the outside. She knows how much my prayer life is to me (I’ve been late for our dates before because of it) and how I probably wouldn’t miss my morning prayers maybe even if the building was on fire, but she didn’t quite understand the toll it took.

“Well…um…imagine that you went a whole week…um…without showering? Maybe you don’t stink and you may not seem to look that crusty to your co-workers, but you just feel…gross. It’s like a secret that only annoys you. It feels like someone has stolen the soap out of my shower – only instead of soap, it’s my tallit and siddur. Instead of soap for the outside, it’s soap for the inside.”

Shakhar is amazing companion in the sense that she worries more about me usually more than I really worry about me. She could tell I was out of sorts. “You really need to find that your tallit and siddur.” She said this with her “serious eyes.” Usually, I rarely see her eyes because she’s laughing about something, but when she has something serious to say, she does so with those eyes.

Ok, she was on the case now. Extra heat on the case – but not necessarily motivation to get her off my back, but the only reason she could be misconstrued as being on my back is because she was so for me. She knew it was bothering me and she knew that her pressure would heighten my search skills.

“Look at what I just found!”

After ripping apart my quasi-unpacked home, I finally found my tallit bag – containing both my tallit and my siddur…way down deep in laundry hamper that was being used during the move for the very last items in my old apartment. It was like reuniting with an old friend. I hugged it and immediately started in on my evening prayers – being sure to include thanks for finding my old “security blanket” of a tallit to HaShem. It felt like my new home was just home finally. The picture you see in this post is the picture I sent her after just having found my tallit bag with the caption, “LOOK WHAT I JUST FOUND!!”

tallit karaite prayer shawl
“Look at what I just found!”

To be honest, I didn’t used to always pray that much. It took me years of trying to get into the swing of things. Either I’d make up an excuse not to (“I was up way too late” or “I just got home from work – I just want to relax”), but with time and diligence, I really grew to yearn for those times with HaShem. It was special quality time I got to spend with a loved one. I realize you don’t necessarily need a specific tallit or siddur to make this time special, but being wrapped in my familiar fabric and letting your brain disconnect from the world and reconnect to your own heart are just short-cuts to connecting with the Creator of the Universe. They’re like those passageways in a video game to the next level that your friends may not have caught on to yet. To me, that’s my tallit and my siddur.

If my house were to catch fire, I’d grab Shakhar (if she were there), Ramone (my cat), and then probably my tallit bag. That’s how much my time with the Kodesh Baruch Hu means to me and it’s only a miracle that this ADHD kid can have that glimmer of structure to his life. Baruch HaShem. Ooh…look…another squirrel!

Shalom.

Jewish Prayer: "I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

In many of my run-ins with people of more modern religious denominations, prayer is spoken about like writing Santa Claus a letter a month before xmas. Growing up as a Lutheran Christian, I remember being taught in my confirmation class that a prayer actually had a certain order. I don’t remember the order specifically now, but I remember it resembling the old Mary Poppins song of “A Spoonful of Sugar Helps The Medicine Go Down” in that it seemed to start with complimenting God, thanking God for things, and then bringing your requests – almost as though you had to say the magic word in order to get the Most High’s attention. Even though you’ve successful stroked the ego of the Creator of the Universe, prayer in that manner always seemed oddly selfish to me from that context. 

In Judaism, prayer takes on a much different role and even takes on a different term. “Tefillah”, as it is referred, doesn’t even technically mean “prayer” in the way most people understand it. “Tefillah” is more accurately translated as “praise.” Most of traditional Jewish prayers these days are built with the purpose of trying to (though it is impossible) somewhat replace the sacrificial system of the Temple. In the Temple, different sacrifices were carried out several times a day as offerings to God. Did Jews ever believe that God came down and partook of these sacrifices? Of course not. Did He necessarily even need these sacrifices? Not at all – He’s not a human and doesn’t need food to survive. So, why the heck were we bringing our very best crops and animals to be killed and/or burned for a Being who didn’t technically need them? Because our obedience was a sacrifice of our material goods that brought about the effort of praise. 

I know it sounds really weird, twisted and slightly immature, but God has emotions like we do. When we spend time with other things and dedicate more of our lives to making money and serving our own flesh than serving Him, He gets jealous. Just like when we see our significant other appear to flirt with someone else and our face gets red and hot with jealousy, God feels the same way when another obsession seems to take His place. Also, just like we enjoy an unprompted “I love you” from our significant other, so God enjoys that from us. That is (and this is just my theory) why we have freewill. How good would it feel to have a robot tell you “I love you” when you programmed it to say that to you? Do you get a warm-and-tingly feeling when a parrot says “I love you” a moment after you said this? Probably not so much. So with God, we have the choice of whether not to tell Him that we love Him. We do this with our sacrifice of time and energy in the form of tefillah. 

Just like a significant other will bring the other breakfast in bed or give them a gentle rub of the shoulders after a long day’s work, so are our prayers/tefillah/praise to God. While there are times when we can share our concerns with God, far too often we only pray when we want something. When prayer takes on the role of praise, it becomes our way of telling the Most High that we love Him and want to express to Him how amazing it is to just be able to live lives for Him. 

Because the Temple no longer exists and we’re unable to bring sacrifices to the Most High, we bring our prayers – morning, noon, and night. When your prayers feel like they’re too long and you find yourself detaching from them, remember that this isn’t about you – this is your opportunity to bring your sacrifice of praise to the Creator of the Universe. 

Shalom.