The spare tire part -- that's easy to understand. When something's broken or gone wrong, we might respond in part by praying. We might not be conscious of prayer other than when we have a need, something specific to pray about.
How could prayer be a steering wheel, though?
I found one part of an answer studying Parashat B'haalotcha last week. At the end of the reading, in chapter 12 of Numbers, there is an incident in which Miriam and Aaron, the siblings of Moses, badmouth his wife. According to the commentaries, it wasn't an issue of spreading a false rumor. They may well have been just passing judgment on something true about her. God punishes Miriam. It won't be long in the Torah narrative before all three of the siblings learn that their period of leadership is over and each will die.
In Judaism, lashon hara or bad speaking is not only about spreading falsehoods. It's about speaking truthful things when they are meaningless, irrelevant, misleading, gratuitous. Judaism teaches that we should in general just reduce the amount of talking about other people that we do.
How do we achieve that? Prayer can be a steering wheel. When we are engaged in prayer, we are speaking words in a very elevated way. We recite words that have been carefully chosen and selected through the ages. The subjects of our prayers are meaningful. Before we say the Amidah, the part where we approach God individually with our prayers, we say "Adonai, open my lips so that my mouth will tell your praise." Or -- God, help me shape this speaking I am about to do so that what comes out of my mouth is worthy.
At the end of the Amidah, we say, "My God, guard my tongue from doing-harm, from lashon hara." As we emerge from prayer-speaking toward the end of the service where we will be talking with other people, we ask God to help us keep the speaking habits of prayer, so that we take that way of talking out into our regular conversations. Our tongues need guarding, they are always threating to leap into action. It's a great image -- hold my tongue in place when I feel it starting to move!
Whenever we come to pray in the synagogue, we should pay special attention to those words at the beginning and end of the Amidah. They can become our steering wheel, a way that the routine of prayer can affect how we live our daily life. If we make these phrases our own, we can start to notice when the tongue needs guarding. There are so many moments when we begin to speak about another person and we can hold back for a moment, ask ourselves: Do I need to say this next thing?
Guarding the tongue is not easy, but it is very rewarding. It's purifying and cleansing to stop yourself from uttering even an innocuous word about a third party.
So notice that end of the Amidah when you get to it next time -- Guard my tongue from lashon hara, help me watch what I'm saying about company not present. Take an extra 30 seconds before you sit down, and get comfortable behind that steering wheel.
This d'var Torah makes the concluding paragraph of the Amidah, and prayer, in general, that much more meaningful. Thank you.
Posted by: Robin Rubin | June 20, 2019 at 08:15 PM