Judaism: Praying in the Dark
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After finding a place for the night and, according to the Sages, initiating the Maariv prayer, Yaacov awakens and says:
טז וַיִּיקַץ יַעֲקֹב, מִשְּׁנָתוֹ, וַיֹּאמֶר, אָכֵן יֵשׁ יְהוָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וְאָנֹכִי, לֹא יָדָעְתִּי.
16. And Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said: 'Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.'
In the Hebrew version, the word " Anochi" is unnecessary. It would have been enough to say " VeLo Yadati". Retaining the word "Anochi" means the sentence translates as: " And I, I did not know…"
A unique Hassidic insight suggests that the meaning to the verse is: I did not know the I. Only once a person is able to ignore his own self does he become aware of God.
Yaacov had prayed the night before, and this had created a change in him as a person to the extent that he was able to perceive God's presence in a way that he had been unable prior to that moment.
Prayer requires a willingness on our part to shift focus from the "I" to something beyond ourselves, and to sublimate the "I" before something of greater significance. When we are absorbed in our own lives this is not always such an attainable goal.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to awaken us from our self involvement, enabling us reach the depths of our souls. We undergo a transformation, and this is the main reason for our prayers being answered.
There is a common misconception that if we shout, cajole and plead enough then we are able to change God's mind. But it is not God Who changes through prayer, but ourselves .Prayer affords us the opportunity to reexamine the crucial question of whether we see God or ourselves at the centre of the world.
And it is significant that Yaacov has this encounter in the darkness of night which symbolizes terror, uncertainty and insecurity. It is the ultimate expression of crisis. Yet it is specifically in this reality that Yaacov finds the strength to pray and seek out God.
He has taught us that it is not just in the clarity of daylight that we can pray, but even in a place of unfamiliarity and struggle. On that dark and mysterious night when Yacov fled from his brother to an unknown future, he was forced to face new reality. No longer secure, circumstances forced him to understand himself in this world in a way that he had never known.
Prayer lets us see and feel that God is in this place. We achieve this by moving beyond the first person singular so that we can say " I know not the I", and thereby meet God.
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