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Using the Same Words

Updated: Apr 21




There is a lot to be said for pouring one’s heart out in prayer. 


It is a natural, human trait to pour our hearts out somewhere…to a loved one, a partner, a trustworthy friend… and when our trust is in Adonai, all the better to pour ourselves out there in His presence (not to mention, it’s the safest place to leave it).  This has been the case for years at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where souls gather for private moments in a physical location close to where so much happened spiritually in God’s family… near where the sacred offerings were consecrated, where the glorious Shekinah dwelt, where the Kohanim Gadol or High Priests and countless priests served the LORD and His people.


Not just at the Wall in Jerusalem but in bedroom closets, inside cars, on bended knees beside a sleeping child, or when Mom lights Shabbat candles and covers her eyes, we make mini sanctuaries of time and space and open our hearts and mouths to the One we trust is listening. We hope to honor and obey Him such that He will return shema and hear us.


Sometimes a soul is in such stupor or anguish that one can hardly compose a thought or a prayer.  Sometimes the busy-ness of life, fatigue, grief, all the enemies that undermine true shalom, are rallying for that holy space you are trying to make, challenging your focus or kavana in moments of prayer.  That's when it’s a good time to turn to the Psalms. 


These 150 beautiful poems, teaching tools, prayers, and songs were written by great forefathers who experienced Hashem in the best and worst of times.  The authors, especially King David, found such comfort in prayer as they learned the faithfulness of God to the point that their words have become staples of liturgy and prayer in every generation.  Who hasn’t heard the 23rd Psalm read at a funeral, or heard safety verses quoted like, “He shall give His angels charge over you…”  In times like the ones we are living in, such words bear repeating, daily or hourly as needed, whispered to oneself like a good medicine or shot of steroids…spoken until you feel rest. 


Lots of words are worth repeating. 


Can you hear “I love you” too much?  Can you hear “thank you… I am sorry… I was wrong…” too much?  When you cannot find the right words in prayer, look for the right psalm and express it out loud and often to the Lord.   For years, some doctrines taught that if you believed when you prayed, you shouldn’t pray it any more, but I beg to differ as the occasion merits.  On the holy feasts, pilgrims declared the same psalms of ascents every year as they progressed upwards to the Temple.  Yeshua, teaching His disciples, said “Pray this way…” and many denominations memorize and often say “the Our Father." These are the same ideals and petitions in the Avinu Malkeinu in Jewish liturgy, repeating the same powerful, meaningful, and hopefully heartfelt words again and again.


In Yeshua’s hours of betrayal and agony, he travailed in Gethsamane, in its literal meaning, the place of shemen [oil] pressing, where two gospel accounts say he prayed… then earnestly prayed again and again, with the same words.  How much more can we in times of pressing, in times when words and thoughts fail us, turn to scriptural words and use them again and again?


In the 2023 Jewish National Fund USA Global Conference for Israel, just weeks after the outbreak of the October 7 Simchat Torah war, we gathered to pray, and to stand together…even through the pressing jeers of protestors outside.  Our prayers were not half-hearted, but hope-filled.  As I have shared in my emails, I had the honor of leading a prayer for the hostages’ release, with a group of fellow leaders who prayed for bereft families and for the nation of Israel.  We expected those prayers to make a difference, and do not back off the petitions even now, in fact press all the more. Instead of nations and women's activists rallying to bring pressure for the hostages' release, we strangely heard nothing - no clamoring for the freedom of women, babies, elderly women, boys and girls, young people - held without mercy in the enemy's hands for months now. How odd it feels that no one is listening to this outcry. But indeed Heaven hears... hears the cry of a dying soul, hears the prophet from the belly of a whale, hears the plea of a criminal on a cross, hears the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous.


Today as we face Passover, a holiday that celebrates divine intervention and deliverance from evil that resulted in the freedom of God’s people, we are reminded how many hostages still remain somewhere in Gaza or in tunnels, far from the arms of their loved ones who sit at the Pesach table. So I am praying the same words again, as I have often since that night in November… words from Scripture and from petitions in past exiles, blending what we know of the faithfulness of Hashem, holding Him to His Word, and mixing our love and faith and hope with our hearts, without the leaven of bitterness, hatred, or selfishness…


God of Israel, our Rock, and our Redeemer, God of Mercy, of Compassion,

Matir asurim [who sets captives free] we pray that you return these precious and beloved people, the captured and the missing, who have cruelly and heartlessly been torn from their homes and their land and carried off to our enemy’s territory.

 

We plead before You: Hashem, be at their side, strengthen & support them, keep & comfort, rescue & deliver them from evil, and protect them and quickly bring them back to the embrace of their families and all who love them,

Return them to Shalom, out of narrowness to expanse, out of darkness to light, as You have declared: “Thus says the Lord; Behold, I will restore the captives of Jacob’s tents, and have mercy on their dwelling places…”

 

We beseech you, Adonai Melek Olam, quickly fulfill Your word in Torah: “Here, I am with you, I will watch over you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land, indeed I will not leave you until I have done what I have said to you.” 


May we, saying the same words, say them together, and may they be amplified in the halls of Heaven as we pray them, Jews and Christians, using the same words… And may our zeal not end in prayer but only begin there, as we move diligently into action - the actions of giving, calling our national leadership to action, and sharing with colleagues and friends.


May your family's gatherings throughout the spring feasts be filled with love and meaning, and with the true shalom only brought by the Divine & Eternal Presence.




Photo credit from JNF-USA Denver Global Conference, special thanks to Marnie Nadolne. Pictured at podium Rabbi Erez Sherman; beside me - Gadi Ilan and Bob Lembke. JNF-USA President Dr. Sol Lizerbram is far right.


Scripture References in the article: Matthew 26:36-44; Mark 14:32-39; Luke 23:32-33, 39-43. James 5:16; Psalm 23, 91:11.



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