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Community Blog Praying Alone, Together

By Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

As we move into this Shabbat and beyond, many of us are—among so many other things—adjusting to the idea of davening alone, physically isolated from the communities that nourish us, and the sense of connection that helps lift and carry our prayers.

This midrash from Shemot Rabbah (Parashat B’Shallach) has been echoing in my mind as I think about the spiritual task before us. It is part of a series of sustained reflections on what it means for God to be “shome’a tefilah” (One who hears prayer).

“In the hour that Israel prays, you do not find that everyone prays as one—but rather each and every community prays in its own way and time, this congregation first and after that another congregation, and after all the congregations have finished all of their prayers, the angel appointed over all tefilot gathers up all the prayers that all of the congregations have prayed and makes out of them a crown and places it upon the head of the Holy Blessed One. Davar acher [another interpretation]: A human being can’t hear a conversation of two people speaking at once; but the Holy Blessed One is not like that.  Everyone is praying at the same time and God can hear and receive all of those prayers.”

Somehow, I am finding it comforting to keep this image in mind right now. I have loved it for a long time, this exquisite idea that God wears a crown made of human longing and praise. But, suddenly, the midrash also speaks to me in a new way in this moment—I think because it speaks to the sense of deep connection in the face of separation that many of us are aching to hold onto now.

As I wrap myself in my tallit tomorrow morning, I will be keeping all of you in my heart and in my mind’s eye—along with countless others around the country and around the world—knowing that wherever we are, in whatever small corner of the world we have each privately taken a few steps, bent our knees, and opened our hearts, we are standing together before a God who hears, receives, and holds us all.

With love and wishes for a safe, sweet, and peaceful Shabbat.

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is President of Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.

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