14 February 2006

Praying & Imitatio Dei

Yesterday, I had a meeting with one of the rabbis here as part of an evaluation process that we do, I think, every year in the middle of the year. One of the questions that came up was about my davenning (praying) - how much kavvanah did I have and/or how good was it. I thought about it and realized I just pray as it is הלכה (the Jewish thing to do) to do so, but without any further conception as to what I was doing (aside from thinking about the wording of the prayers sometimes). I realized that I was still, in this regard, stuck in my old way of thinking about following הלכה and not thinking about my עבודת השם (service of the Name [of God]), which is ultimately striving to become as God (concept of imitatio dei) (for more on this, see my earlier posting on trying to follow in the ways of Hashem) .
So, now that I got thinking on the subject, I've been trying, whenever I daven (and even outside of davenning) to think about how it relates to being like God.
The main source for prayer is Berakhos 26b, where there are two main ideas presented there: one that prayer was established by the forefathers (Avraham, Yizhak, and Ya'akov), while the other is that it was in place of the Divinely-commanded sacrifice offerings. The conclusion of the redactor (as there are contradictory texts) is that the forefathers initiated them, and that the sacrifice offerings were attached to them (When I first read it, I was skeptical, but when one looks at the wording of the ברייתות (teachings) closely, one sees that there is a language of instituting used with the forefathers and a post facto language used with the offerings (e.g. "Because of what did they say...?"), thus, it makes sense to conclude like the redactor (though it does kind of leave out Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi's opinion as to when/how they were established).).
However, I'm thinking that as it was established by man (or men, I suppose), there is more of an element of developing a relationship with God, such that God is a separate entity - one of which we can try to have a greater awareness, as opposed to directives found in תנ"ך (the Hebrew Bible), where there is more of an imperative to follow in the ways of God.
I've long liked the simple historical view proposed by Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, that it is a rabbinic replacement to sacrificial offerings, which would then make it an interesting discussion as the sacrificial offerings are the original intention and will of God, and that it's our physical service to God which is the עיקר (main point), but as we can no longer offer sacrifices, we can now only offer it with our lips (so to speak (pardon the pun)). However, instead of fully being able to do God's will, we can now only offer up words. However, Maimonides would totally disagree with this (see the Guide to the Perplexed, 3.32), as he would say that sacrificial offerings were only a Divine concession to the milieu of the time of the Bible, but that God really wanted prayer. I kind of like that approach, but not totally - inasmuch as the historical contextualizing of the רמב"ם (Maimonides) speaks to me, I'm not sure how that really jives with my understanding of the Divinity of the five books of Moses.
So, I'm still pondering....
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