middot equanimity mesorah lens of the amidah

lens of the amidah

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-siddur1There is a common question regarding prayer: If God is perfect, and I am imperfect, why would I need to pray for anything?

God is all-powerful and knows better than I do about how things ought to be, so is it right for me to even ask for something to be different? On the one hand, there are kernels of truth under-girding such inquiry. There is every possibility that our own desires are limited and may not be connected with God’s overarching design. Nevertheless, the God whom we encounter in TaNaKh and B’rit Chadashah is directly impacted by prayer. This is so much so that the fate of the world has been, dare I say, “altered” by great prayers! For example, would there have been a Jewish people if Moses hadn’t interceded after the sin of the Golden Calf (maybe…maybe not)? Regardless, we can learn from this that prayer is something that God desires from us and is something that is crucial and transformative for us and Him.

What does this have to do with equanimity? We are so often thrown off by those life circumstances that challenge our perceptions of how things ought to be. When we experience a crisis, we are moved to want things to be different. Is this a sign of out-of-balance equanimity? Not necessarily. Prayer channels the impulse towards dissatisfaction in a positive way. The great prayer of the Jewish people called the Amidah (Shemonei Esrei, T’fillah) is one of the greatest events of our daily lives to bring balance to our middah of equanimity.

The language of the Amidah starts us off by reminding us who God is and who we are: “Blessed are you, LORD our God, and God of our ancestors.” This praise of God and recognition of who we are and who He is serves as the basis of all the b’rachot (blessings) that follow. Each b’racha (blessing) begins with a plea to God for more, less, or other than what already is: peace instead of strife; healing instead of illness; more knowledge, less wickedness; etc. At the same time, we end each b’racha with an assertion that God’s very nature is to do the thing for which we were moved to ask. The Amidah clarifies what we ought to be moved to change.

The Amidah is an opportunity to face our longing for a better world and a better life, and an opportunity to face the God who smiles upon the longing and is praiseworthy and trustworthy to answer. There is no future tense at the end of these b’rachot. They all end as specifications of who God IS.  What if we were to really pour out our longings to God with each b’racha and end with the steadiness of heart to say, “Blessed are you LORD, who heard my prayer and is faithful to answer”? We would be people deeply connected to the truth that our longings for something different are part and parcel of our identity in God and we can give them over to Him completely without reservation.

Equanimity is the middle road between the extremes of complacency and panic. The Amidah is the thrice daily prayer that can guide us to live in equanimity. We face our longings and fears, our identity, God’s identity, and end in praise of Him. May we all utilize our davening to set the tone for our daily lives where we are commanded to want nothing less than God’s Kingdom, and are connected enough to who He is to say that “everything’s gonna be all right.”

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