In my experience home made prayer and study is a prerequisite to synagogue study. Home made religion is also the perfect counterbalance to institutional practice. Traditionally Judaism has honored the home as equal to the Temple in the practice of religion. I believe we always must honor the hierarchy of: self, home, and then community. Do it yourself prayer and study allows for originality and inspiration. You are the task. You do need teachers and this is why we are speaking now.
We begin our day with a Prayer Upon Awakening, in the home and bless our food, in the home or wherever we eat. These prayers are personal obligations, along with the entire prayer service, to be done at home if not in synagogue. For those who do not think in terms of obligation I invite you to create personal prayer as a free will offering.
Home made prayer allows you to be the leader and take control of your own self expression. Prayer gives soul to everything. You may want to start the day with your favorite music and give words to your thoughts and emotions by listening and responding. You are invited to follow the model on our Temple Shabbat Shalom website.
This does not mean we ignore fixed liturgy or the benefit of community prayer. Exercise is often best done with a trainer,workout partner and class. Try tandem prayer with your partner. Find a minyan. This is not an either/or.
We say lechaiem, to life, and do not separate soul from body. Prayer requires inspiration and content, text and spontaneity, individual and communal worship.
Ten are required for an official minyan, but prayer remains an individual personal obligation with or without ten. In fact praying alone has advantages. The strength of the prayer book, the Siddur, is that it offers a Seder, an order of prayer that is forever fixed. The Amidah, “The Prayer”
Is petition in the plural, always a “We”; not a “Me”.
The only problem is the recitation of the fixed liturgy without mindfulness.
The Amidah becomes a mantra to those who have mastered the text, as a body. Prayer however is more than mystical chanting. How do we give soul to the body of prayer?
Start with yourself, in the mundane world the moment you awaken, thanking the creator for opening your eyes and then thank your creator for the backbone to stand in prayer and to say thank you. On your own or with a partner or in minyan continue with Psalms of praise, those in the prayer
book and those you write yourself.
Revisit the Song at the Sea and be ready for the call to prayer. If you are not in a minyan of ten bodies invite ancestors and your parents and heroes to your personal worship service. Be creative.
We recite Shema with our without ten and then enter prayer standing. By yourself, with a partner, or in minyan, it is essential to know the thematic
soul of the Amidah. For example, the first prayer, called Avot, which means principles and ancestors, is a time to reflect on our parents, grandparents and lineage back to our founding fathers and founding mothers.
In other words, what principles have we learned from our principals?
We learn from The God of Abraham
The God of Isaac
The God of Jacob
The God of Sarah
The God of Rebecca
The God of Rachel
The God of Leah
That each has a unique dimension of God to teach.
We pray to add our names to this list.
Think in archetypes. Learn from Kabballah the overlay with the Sepheroat.
Meditate on characters to achieve character. Who are your hero’s?
Ancestor meditation takes a lifetime. Their story is our story, Joseph and the children of Israel descend into Egypt, encamp around Sinai and then a golden calf, get lost in a wildness of words, enter the land of promise, are
exiled and experience four diasporas before returning from where they began. We pray the restoration of the Temple, but must ask which Temple?
Herod’s? Isaiah’s? How do we renew our days as of old?
The next blessing and theme is Gevouroat ,or strengths. Our diaspora legacy was one of exile powerlessness and destruction. Do we have the strength to ask the strongest of questions, to achieve wisdom by asking
What and Why?
How do we resurrect all things dead? Will the graves open themselves?
Is the individual excluded from community if they do not believe?
If God sustains the world with loving-kindness how do we sustain Israel without violence? When will Messiah come? The day after he or she is needed, as the Rav teaches?
O Lord, I am losing strength. Will we be exiled once again from our land by Hamas?
Lift us up.
It is time you praise and save your people.
Shake off the dust you wear like a prayer shawl.
The Star has not protected your servant.
Relight the eternal flame
Of your menorah
For Israel to wear
as her flag.
The above is tradition peppered with inspiration.
This is prayer.
The next theme is Kedushah or holiness. The paradox of holiness is that we become holy when we separate. First we are individuals and then community even if we are a hoplessely communal people. Rabbi Nacmun was right to pray, alone, to his God, Al-One . Tradition demands ten since it sometimes easiest to be alone in a group.