By: Meg Adler
What if prayer was supposed to be boring? Stay with me here.
I teach 6th and 7th graders who are preparing to become B’nai Mitzvah, and I am constantly fighting this idea that Jewish education is boring – or worse, irrelevant and outdated. So, I do what any good Jewish educator would do: I desperately bend over backwards to show the next generation that it’s fascinating and crucial to their lives today. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s a challenge.
In particular, I try to make t’filah – our prayer services – interesting and new each time. I do this for a few reasons. First, I want my students to know that there are many different ways to pray. Second, t’filah is the hardest time for many students to focus, and I want to keep it shiny and fresh (as antithetical as that may be to the concept of ritual).
So, I did a little research about how prayer is understood in Jewish texts and found this gem from the Jerusalem Talmud:
“Rabbi Hiya said: ‘I never concentrated during prayer in all my days. Once I wanted to concentrate, but I thought about who will meet the king first: the Arkafta [a Persian high official] or the Exilarch [the leader of the Jewish people in Babylon for a time]?’
Shmuel said, ‘I count clouds [during prayer.]’
R. Bun bar Hiyah said ‘I count the layers of stones in the wall [while I pray].’
R. Matnaya said ‘I am grateful to my head, because it bows by itself when I reach Modim [a prayer of gratitude].’” Jerusalem Talmud 2:4*
This is a text about rabbis admitting that during daily prayer, they are bored! They wonder about the future, count the clouds and even doze off. But then I asked myself, why do they pray at all if they are not actually doing it?
What if prayer is supposed to be boring? Boredom gets a bad rap, but when you think about it, it’s the state from which so many great ideas come. I think sometimes we fear taking the chance of boredom because what if our minds wander into places we don’t want to go? But if we don’t let our minds wander, we deny ourselves those “aha!” moments and bursts of inspiration that could lead to unknown treasures for our lives or the world.
And finally, what if we flip this on its head? What if boredom is in itself prayer – a spiritual experience? So may God forbid you actually pray, and instead, next time you’re in services, seize a moment for yourself to be bored. Reframe those seconds, minutes (may you be blessed with hours) as sacred time that give us access to the infinite potential of our creativity.
*Sourced from Orthodox Union here.
Original artwork by Letters Aligned (aka Meg!).