Toward the end of 2021, NASA launched the new James Webb Telescope into orbit around the sun. With its 21-foot mirror and remarkable technology, the telescope can see further into the Universe, and earlier into its existence, than ever before.
What we are learning is that the Universe began over 13 billion years ago with an extraordinary explosion of energy. That energy spawned the formation of billions of galaxies, with trillions of stars.
Among those billions of galaxies was ours – what we call The Milky Way – which itself consists of at least 100 billion stars. That energy formed the spiral arms of that galaxy, including our sun. Some of that energy created the planets of our solar system, including the third planet from the sun – what we call Earth.
That same energy can be found in the currents of the oceans and the jet stream winds, in the surge of continental plates, and in the lightning that illumines a stormy sky.
And some of that energy is also found inside each and every one of us. The energy that passes through our neurons and awakens our heartbeat, that puts the twinkle in our eyes and the sparkle in our souls, is a glimmer of that first burst of energy that brought the entire Universe into being.
Worship and prayer represent the most mysterious and misunderstood elements of Jewish life. So often we think of prayer as deep wishing or intense desire. We pray when our hearts yearn for a future we imagine and hope for, but have not yet realized – a child’s success, an illness thwarted, a threat averted, an achievement accomplished.
But worship is much more like launching a telescope beyond the limitations of our atmosphere so that we can perceive the Universe with much greater clarity and awareness.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God. … To pray is to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.”
Centuries ago, the Kabbalists taught what astronomers teach today. The energy that enlivens every facet of our world constantly flows from its original source, what they call the Shefa – the Divine flow of energy. We can live our lives in oblivion, completely unaware of the majesty of the energy that brings us into being and sustains us in our brief journey through life.
Or, we can deliberately take our place in the flow, consciously beholding the flow of that energy through us. We can open our eyes, our hearts, and our souls to the holiness found in every molecule of creation, and in every moment of life.
This is prayer.
Prayer is the braid we weave from hope, imagination, and courage. It is the awareness and gratitude we develop for the miracles that surround us. It is the inspiration that propels us to harness that holy energy through the performance of mitzvot – in each and every holy act.
Think about the energy you feel when engaged with something holy – when you discover another person’s soul in love, when you grasp a new concept or piece of wisdom, when you open your heart with compassion, or restore some broken element of the world with an act of justice.
You can feel your body pulse with energy. You heart quickens. Your skin tingles. Your eyes widen. You are move alive.
As Heschel wrote: “The soul is endowed with a sense of indebtedness … In spite of our pride, in spite of our acquisitiveness, we are driven by an awareness that something is asked of us; that we are asked to wonder, to revere, to think and to live in a way that is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living.”
Prayer is learning to listen to what the Author of the Universe has to teach, what we ought to do with the holy energy that is implanted within us. And then, prayer will reveal to us, as Heschel writes: “the simplicity of knowing what to live for …”
Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”