In the course of preparing the kids for school, I went to Borders for a pocket dictionary and thesaurus. I was drawn to a table of sale books marked “50% off of marked price.” One entire stack was comprised of a book called “Life After G-d.” The blurb said it was about what people believe in when they have given up on the “idea” of G-d. Where do they find meaning in life? Who do they turn to with a heavy heart?
I immediately thought of something I had seen almost two decades ago, when I spent a year in Israel, studying and learning. At the burial place of Maimonides in Tiberias, a wizened Sephardic Grandmother washed down the stone, then rubbed the water from the stone on her hands and face, all the while praying loudly and emotionally. Her relationship with G-d and His messengers was unabashed and palpable.
For years I was jealous of her deep kavanah - concentration – how did one get to that real, uninhibited connection with Hakadosh Baruch Hu? What I didn’t understand at nineteen is that praying is like learning a musical instrument: it’s not just reading the notes, it’s infusing the soul into the notes.
What the Sephardic Grandmother had was deep "kavanah" – not necessarily the mystical and kabalistic nuances, but she had deeply integrated the understanding of G-d’s Omnipresence. He was there, and listening to her. She understood that a relationship with G-d is a real living thing, that in the space of our relationship with G-d there’s what He puts in, and then there’s what we put in – and both are important.
In the book HaYom Yom we meet the Sephardic Grandmother again: “When a Jew studies Torah he feels like a student before G-d, his Teacher, whose wisdom he is studying. When he prays, he feels like a child before his father.”
Rabbi Yeshayah Horowitz, “The Holy Shalo”h," and Rabbi Nachman of Breslev advise us to speak to G-d every day in our native tongue. This reminds us that prayer is not just reciting words – it’s speaking to G-d, when we share everything that’s in our hearts.