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Un-Scripting the Scripted

Friday, 10 August, 2012 - 2:00 pm

One of the projects at Camp Gan Israel in Boise this week was creating havdalah “spice balls.” The children were all given foam balls, cloves and pipe cleaners. The end result, however, was completely different from camper to camper.

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In this week’s Parsha of Eikev we read the second paragraph of the famous Shema prayer. It opens, “And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the L-rd, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Our Sages explain that to “serve Him with all your heart” refers to prayer, because prayer is a “service of the heart.” Prayer is not meant to be lip service. Rather it is supposed to be a heartfelt petition to G-d.

I have often been asked why the Rabbis established set prayers in the Siddur. The argument is bolstered by the idea that prayer should be an outpouring of emotion, not a recitation of some ancient Rabbis’ prose.

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The kids at camp, however, proved the opposite. True creativity is not accomplished by gaining diverse outcomes from distinct materials. Real originality is arriving with a unique product from identical material. Each “spice ball” told a story of its own. The actual ingredient list may look the same but the exclusive imprint of each child is paramount.

To formulate one’s own words of prayer has a place in Judaism.

But to find genuine meaning in prayer – on a daily basis – requires wrestling with the same words as your neighbor.

We may articulate equal words. But the emotion can be entirely different.

The words are there. Now go make them your own.       

Un-scripting the scripted. That’s toil of the heart.

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