Due to the global pandemic, more of us unable to pray in the minyanim (groups) that we normally would be able to. This has caused many of us to pray alone—sometimes in a tongue that is not the most familiar. For the sake of those modern English speakers wishing to align with the Creator of the Universe through traditional Jewish prayers, I’ve curated some of the “greatest hits” of Weekday prayer and provided some of my favorite translations. Some are lifted from other prayerbooks. Some are my original reframings of existing prayers. All of them are for you to enjoy for free here in ebook format.
From book introduction: This siddur is for those who are seeking to connect with the Creator of the Universe in a Jewish way, but are either still learning to make Hebrew the language of their heart or simply prefer to seek out Hashem in their English mother tongue. It is not meant as a replacement to traditional Hebrew prayer, but instead as an accompanying resource. Many of the prayers are also heavily abbreviated assist in facilitating regular prayer—to eliminate any daunting element of initiating tefillah. The best siddur is the one that is regularly used. The best prayers are the easiest to initiate. If the praying individual wishes to pray more, there are always Tehillim (Psalms) they can utter, additional tefillah (as found in the back of this book) or hitbodedut (personal prayer.)
How to Upload MOBI or PDF Files to Your Kindle On Computer
If you have the Kindle for Mac application installed on your Mac computer, you should only have to open the .mobi file on your computer and use the Kindle for Mac application to open it. This should also upload the book to your Library across your devices.
How to Upload MOBI or PDF Files to Your Kindle Via Email
A PDF will work, but you’ll prefer the MOBI file
Right-click or hold down the link to download the MOBI or PDF file to your computer or device.
Siman/Chapter 9:20 | Embarrassed by Invalid Tzitzit
Around section 20 of chapter 9, we wrap up (no pun intended) the regulations of valid versus invalid tzitzit threads. We’ve covered that there are a handful of requirements of tzitzit to make them acceptable, but this section talks about what happens if finding valid tzitzit or fixing invalid tzitzit is simply impossible.
“If you go to a Synagogue on Shabbos and discover that a tzitzah (fringe) of your tallis (prayer shawl) has become invalid and you are unable to borrow another tallis and you are embarrassed to sit without a tallis, then, since it is not possible for you to tie another tzitzah on this day, therefore for the sake of your dignity you are permitted to wear the tallis as is but you should not recite the berachah. This is applicable only if you were unaware before Shabbos that [the tzitzah] became invalid, but if you knew before Shabbos that it became invalid you are forbidden to wear the tallis, since you should have fixed it the day before.”
We notice here flexibility and a balance in the text towards keeping the rules and the unpredictability of life. So, you arrive at synagogue only to find that one of your tzitzit is invalid, rendering the entire tallit technically unsuitable for use. To make matters worse, there isn’t another one you can use.
What was your intent? To be compliant with the rules.
What happened? You’re in an unavoidable situation where you can’t fix the wrong, but you’ll also be embarrassed by praying without a prayer shawl. Though we shouldn’t dwell on how others think about us, they’ll quickly notice your lack of a tallit in prayers and wonder what’s going on. This may even be distracting. Can you imagine if the rabbi in services one morning just decided to go without a tallit? It would likely cause a commotion that would injure the quality of the service.
What is the remedy for this situation? Do you just carry on as though nothing had happened? Almost.
As we read, the text says you can wear the tallit, but you can’t recite the blessing on it. Reciting a blessing associated with a tallit is usually in hushed tones or before you enter the synagogue, making your lack of doing so unlikely to draw much attention. Actually, you will be able to carry on throughout the service as though your tzitzit are completed valid.
But you’ll know.
You’ll know that you’re technically wearing an invalid tallit. You’ll know that you didn’t say the blessing. In this case, the punishment for this crime is your own knowing.
It’s not unusual to delight in observing the commands of Torah and the stipulations of halacha (tradition). In fact, doing so can be quite pleasurable for someone who feels that doing so pleases G-d and injects increase purpose and divine structure into their lives. Many on the outside fail to see the appeal in this and ask, “Well, what happens if you don’t do something? Are you punished?”
Our answer is often, “well, no.” Our response, however, should be, “indeed, there is punishment — harsh punishment indeed.”
“Well, what is this punishment of which you speak?”
“Anytime I don’t do a mitzvah, I miss an opportunity to do a mitzvah. That is my punishment. Likewise is the reward I receive from performing a mitzvah — the great gift of being able to perform a mitzvah.”
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In the Jewish tradition, much like other religions, there is a space in the prayer service where the names of those who need healing are called out. It’s not a general “and for everyone who needs healing, please send healing” message. No, usually their actual Hebrew names are called out. These are very intimate names — the names of their souls.
Surely, the Creator knows these people’s names. The Source of All knows their affliction. Even if no prayer for healing were uttered, their need for healing would be well documented in the higher realms and echoed to the furthest reaches of existence. So, what difference does it make that we carve out a section of our daily prayers to run through this roster of people needing healing? Does our uttering of their name speed up their recovery? If we don’t utter their name, will the Holy One ignore their distress?
As I’ve mentioned before, prayer is one of the most misunderstood aspects of spiritual life to those who don’t practice it. (Heck, I don’t even understand it sometimes.) Even for some who have belief in a Creator, prayer can seem like the utmost waste of time. Does the Creator know our heart or not? Why must we make these requests every day? Don’t we have faith that the Holy One already knows what we need?
The Creator does know. The problem is that we forget.
Before I became more acquainted with the Mi Sheberach prayer (the prayer for healing), I still prayed for the overall healing of those are suffering. I had a heart for those experiencing distress, though it was generic. It wasn’t actionable whatsoever. It didn’t require anything of me. As I took on the practice of mentioning the names of those people close to me who needed healing, I noticed something peculiar begin to happen inside.
If my wife tells me to go to the grocery store for five items, I still tell her to send me a message on my phone with the list or I’ll jot them down myself. Yes, I can’t keep five items in my mind. Still, as I began the practice of reciting a detailed Mi Sherberach, I found that I could rattle off a dozen names without hesitation. Some of these names I’ve just heard mentioned in my synagogue. They have no faces, ages, or specific ailments, but they exist as clearly in my mind as the Shema. Still, others are the names I’ve added — loved ones I care for deeply down to acquaintances I know are experiencing suffering. If you asked me for this list, you wouldn’t see a piece of paper come out of my pocket or a memo note open on my phone. Though a basic grocery list alludes me, I could rattle off their names without hesitation.
This memorization of the names of the people in my life who need healing is not just so that I can ask the Creator to change whatever cosmic plan was in store for these people. While I believe that my prayer echoes through the throne room of the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the one who needs to hear this prayer the most is me. Just as much as my laptop, my lunch bag, and whatever book I’m reading are a part of my day, so too are these people. This prayer forces me to carry them with me — to remember their affliction, to recall their faces, and to help them in their healing process however I can.
I was uttering the Mi Sheberach prayer the other day and, despite it being a whisper, a dear friend’s name echoed off the back wall of my living room like a ricocheting tennis ball. Her face flashed before my eyes and my heart filled with joy.
Even though I was easily a head taller than most of my classmates, my lanky frame, red bushy hair, and freckles made me the target of many bullies. One attempt at replying to my “carrot top” insult was to reply that “carrot tops are green, genius” — which didn’t so much help me win the day as it just made me seem that much more interested in carrots. (Thanks for the suggestion, Dad, but it backfired.) I was at a loss for a clever comeback. So, I did what any 11-year-old would do when facing down a schoolyard bully — I asked my mother for advice.
“Whenever someone calls you a name, just say, ‘so?’ They’ll soon leave you alone.”
What? Just say ‘so?’?” Mom, that’s middle school social suicide. I would be essentially agreeing with my oppressor!
But I was out of options. So, I gave it a whirl.
“Man, you look like if Ronald McDonald and Gumby had a baby.” “So?” “Haha, you admit it, you freckle-faced freak?” “So?” “You probably burst into flames from the refrigerator door light.” “So?” “Yeah, heh. If I tried to play ‘connect the dots’ with your freckles, I’d need a truckload of pens.” “So?” “Eh, uh, your hair looks like I could roast marshmallows over it.” “So?” “Man, forget this. You’re not even worth it.”
And just like that, my willingness to endure this bully’s insults without letting them penetrate my, yes, extremely sensitive skin proved to be a strain greater than he could bear. Even more than his own disinterest in insulting the “uninsultable,” the idiocy and sad plight of his need to put others down became implanted in my 11-year-old psyche. For a brief moment, I started to pity this bully’s need for validation at the expense of losers like me.
I was reminded of these occurrences during my morning prayers. In the Amidah (Jewish standing prayer), there is a passage that follows my mother’s wisdom to a T.
“To those who curse me, let my soul be silent — let my soul be like dust to everyone.”
Insults can hurt, this is true. Words can damage. Still, when we take a step back from the situation and assume a third-party vantage point, we can begin to see that the true weakness lies with the offender. A sad emptiness exists within them. You may even notice them coveting your own contentment.
“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.”
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Disclaimer: Though biological processes are discussed in this piece, I can’t guarantee that these techniques will work for everyone. It may be life-changing for some and others may feel nothing. We’re all unique creations.
Inhibitions To Prayer
I’ve battled Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) all of my life. Due to a chemical imbalance in my brain, it is much more difficult for me to control my concentration. The sensation is like attempting to film a blade of grass, but the camera’s auto-focus feature keeps locking in on the airplane at 30,000 feet. Most grow out of this condition. I’ve only grown out of feeling the need to treat my condition with narcotics. I’ve tried both successfully and unsuccessfully to manually strengthen control of my focus in other ways. My ADHD has been one of my greatest challenges to my prayer life.
I’ve found that truly meaningful prayer is a three-step process.
Connecting to what is being prayed
Transmission of prayer
The sensation of your prayer being heard
In Jewish thought, the internal sensation that your prayer is being heard is called having “kavanah.” This word literally means “alignment” in Hebrew, but is more of the deep spiritual focus in which one has the sensation that the Holy One has picked up the other telephone line. When I am unable to achieve the sensation of kavanah due to an inability to focus, it feels as though I’m expressing my innermost heartbreak to a dear friend and they’re preoccupied with a game of Candy Crush. The problem isn’t that the Holy One isn’t listening, but that my brain’s spiritual auto-focus is busted. Frustrated by this, I looked to my own biology for a fix.
My solution for alignment? To bypass my brain.
The Passage Way For Kavanah/Alignment
Many make the mistake in thinking that powerful prayer requires intellect. It most certainly does not. In many ways, the ultimate champions of prayer are little children. Because many children’s minds have not developed to the point of rationally conceiving of an All-Powerful Creator that simply is the fabric of existence itself, their prayers are nothing more than elevated admiration for a parent-figure that exists within. This does not mean that prayer is by any means foolish, but rather that an intellectual may struggle more to overcome their own thoughts in order to connect to the Creator in prayer. Meanwhile, the child’s natural state is full-bodied prayerful pleading. What is an intellectual to do in order to attain prayerful alignment — true kavanah? Bypass the mind and tap into the heart — or, as I have found, the gut.
Just like clinical heartburn has nothing to do with the cardiovascular system and is actually reflux of stomach acid into one’s esophagus, so too is your emotional and spiritual “heart” not so much the blood-pumping organ in the chest. Rather, your spiritual “heart” could also be in the seat of your second brain: your gut. Your digestive system is frequently the canary in the coal mine of your emotional state. Anxiety, stress, and depression frequently take their toll on your digestion. For example, when I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2017, the news sent me running for a bathroom stall. The expressions “go with your gut”, “gut feeling”, “butterflies in your stomach” are not without an anatomical basis. Yes, you are actually able to process information not only from your digestive system but also with it. This is what is referred to as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).
Your Second Brain in Your Stomach
Your body’s Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is literally a second brain of sorts throughout your digestive system. Actual neurons exist within the human gastrointestinal system. Biological research has shown that one’s ENS actually carries out functions independent of one’s brain. This area of study is known as neurogastroenterology. This form of neurological activity is responsible for many bodily functions ranging from the esophagus’ ability to pull substances into the stomach (why you can drink water while upside down) to your gag reflex.
Neurogastroenterology is also closely tied to one’s deepest emotions. Has sadness ever put a lump in your throat? Have you ever had your heart broken to the point of feeling it in the pit of your stomach? Do instincts ever first manifest as a physical gut feeling? This is the reason why extreme stress can cause one to vomit. But how does this connect to prayer?
Praying With Your Guts
Just as referenced before, the basics of prayer can be broken down into a few simple parts. For prayers of thanks or worship, the feeling of gratitude is processed in your brain before it is transmitted spiritually. The same goes for prayers of request, whether for your own needs or for the wellbeing of another. In many instances, these styles of prayer have a much more complex “signal” to convey and details to transmit. Still, these prayers are processed. Where the neurogastroenterological system comes into play is to process heartfelt prayer through the guts. Usually, an event causes you to feel an emotion that may be processed by the gut, but rarely do you consciously utilize your guts (or “kishkes”, in Yiddish) as the cosmic telephone microphone. But how can you utilize your guts in prayer?
Even beyond your five senses, you can be more conscious of a certain area of the body at a given time. For example, during a guided meditation, one way the leader of a guided meditation gets the group to relax is to get them to close their eyes and consciously relax each section of the body — part by part. It may go something like,
“Now, I want you to imagine your shoulders becoming more relaxed. No longer tense, your shoulders are soft and loose. This loose sensation now travels down your back…” The leader does this until those meditating have consciously envisioned each section of the body, to relax it, which in turn has a biological sensation of relaxation. This level of focus allows us to pinpoint areas of the body to stimulate or relax. A similar method was utilized by the U.S. Navy in order to help pilots fall asleep faster — under two minutes in most cases.
Praying with one’s guts is very similar. In prayer, more complex thoughts will still be processed by the brain, but the sensation of kavanah, of spiritual connection, is greatly enhanced when one prays through your guts.
While I’ve provided some of the science behind why it may be that “praying with your kishkes” may ultimately enhance your kavanah, or your spiritual connective focus during prayer, I can’t make the claim that it will work for everyone. I can only share my own experiences on what works for me.
The Silent Scream
One exercise to quickly access the pathway of the guts is through a scream or a yell. Because you probably live in a fairly developed area, you may engage what Rabbi Nachman of Breslov called the “Silent Scream.” Trying screaming, only without connecting your vocal cords that would produce the sound. Use the same abdominal muscles, breath, and possibly even facial expression you would if you were to let out a loud wail. When engaging these wailing muscles in prayer, you will find it very difficult to focus on anything else but your silent wailing to God.
When you speak to God, you should arouse your heart to the point where your soul all but flies out of you. This is true prayer…You must cry out to God from the very depths of your heart.
The biological act of sobbing is not just a facial expression, a release of tears, or a vocal eruption, but also a tightened release of emotion from one’s guts.
I have personally found that the same pit of my stomach that is engaged during a laugh, sob, or scream is my seat of kavanah. When I feel as though I am at the height of spiritual focus, my stomach is in the same state if I’m getting choked up from a beautiful piece of music. While my brain attempts to process the details of the greatness of the Creator, my messages gratitude, admiration, or even distress are processed through my kishkes like an umbilical telephone line to another place — a place beyond.
True prayer isn’t only processing your emotions with your mind but also wringing the tears — both of sadness and ecstasy — from your guts before your Creator.
In a conversation with a co-worker, I was struck by something he said.
“A lot of the time, I feel like life is just happening to me. I’m rarely able to take even a moment to just pause and appreciate what is going on. I wish I had a technique that would allow me to hit the pause button on the world and let me enjoy what is taking place.”
This sentiment struck me — not because I felt the same way, but because I used to. Then I found the perspective-shifting power of brachot.
Brakhot/brachot (בְּרָכוֹת) (with a ‘kh’ like you’re clearing peanut butter out your throat) or “beh-ra-khot” is just the Hebrew word for “blessings.” The singular form of the word (bracha) also contains the word “berek” which literally means “knee” and “barak” meaning to kneel. Literally, a bracha is a lowering of one’s self. Think of whenever someone is knighted by the Queen of England, that kneel before she taps them on the shoulder with a sword and they gain magic powers. That’s how that works, right?
In Judaism, a bracha is a statement you utter to thank the Creator for a specific item or experience. This statement is usually predetermined, though it can be improvised. And boy-howdy does Judaism have a bracha for all sorts of things.
Waking up has a bracha.
Going to sleep has a bracha.
Drinking a glass of water has a bracha.
Washing your hands in a certain way has a bracha.
Every type of food is categorized and has a bracha.
Witnessing a rainbow has a bracha.
Even using to the restroom or witnessing a political leader has a bracha…and no, they’re not the same.
Most every bracha starts out with the same pre-loaded intro:
“Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Master of the Universe….” fill in the blank. The “blanks” are the icing on the cosmic cupcake.
“…Who brings the fruit of the tree.”
“…Who creates different kinds of fragrances.”
“…Who has given us life, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”
Not every bracha is happy. For instance, when we hear terrible news, such as hearing that someone has passed away, there’s a bracha for that.
“Blessed is the True Judge.”
Many make the mistake in thinking that we’re blessing objects or experience. While we have the capability to bless each other, Judaism is pretty firm about not blessing objects. Instead, we bless God not only for the object or experience itself but for our ability to experience it. In a way, a bracha is like tagging the artist of a painting you shared on Instagram to make sure they get the full credit.
What is a bracha…for us? Sure, God enjoys our brachot, but we know that the concept was also created for our own benefit. That takes us back to the original woe of my co-worker — experiencing life instead of life simply happening to us.
The famous alternative peace activist Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen summed up the purpose of a bracha better than I ever could.
“A bracha (blessing) is a protest against taking things for granted.”
Like we always feel the need to snap pictures of the beautiful things in life with our phones, we should be even more eager to snap emotional memory pictures of our blessings. Even if you don’t follow the Jewish recipe, there is a certain consciousness you give moments you have been gifted by simply taking a few seconds to use your lips like a camera shutter and vocalize your gratitude for your own perspective of life.
In Judaism, there is an idea called “כַּוָּנָה” or kavanah. Early on in my studies, I was always told this was one’s focus or intention during prayer. The popular idea behind it can be summed up in the immortal words of a Mr. Ferris Beuller.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
As someone diagnosed with fairly severe ADHD, I understood the gist of kavanah in prayer and study…or a lack thereof. I had definitely “read” pages of text before just to realize it was only my eyes that had done the reading. Meanwhile, my mind was off wondering if anyone had noticed that my socks didn’t match. Still, it wasn’t till kavanah was described to me in a different way did I understand it enough to actually do something about it.
I was watching a class with a rabbi I’d met while I was in Jerusalem in 2009 – Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser. If you close your eyes and listen to his classes, you’d probably assume he was in a tie-dye tank top with some Birkenstocks and white-guy dreads. He’s actually a former professional big wave surfer turned ultra-Orthodox hasidic rabbi. His days are now filled enlightening the spiritually-searching souls that wander into his classes at Aish HaTorah. Anyways, in this class, he described kavanah as simply meaning “alignment.” He explained that it shouldn’t be a hard concept to grasp and that “kavanah” would also be what you’d say needed fixing on the front-end of your car to an Israeli mechanic if you ran your car into a curb.
Alignment. Alignment. It made perfect sense. All this time, I had been trying to focus my mind and heart on the text on the page instead of where it was going — to the Creator of the Universe. This helped immensely. But not completely.
Up until this point, I had been praying out of my head. After some additional study of the works of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the source of my prayers took an anatomic shift.
“When you speak to God, you should arouse your heart to the point where your soul all but flies out of you.”
Using this idea of reaching from within for alignment, I wrote a piece about praying from your guts, which I won’t go into as much here. Still, praying from my guts seemed to increase my kavanah very much. Still, I was missing another element of kavanah — the internal sensation that your prayers are being heard. Not reaching to feel the sensation of being heard can feel like spilling your guts in your first love letter to someone and then just tucking it away in a drawer, never to see the light of day again. I couldn’t take this sensation of not knowing if my heavenly voicemails had reached their destination or not.
Soon after this realization that the best source of my kavanah (alignment) with the Creator during prayer was actually reaching out…with my guts (yeah, it makes more sense if you read my other article), I developed a pre-prayer…well, prayer, so to speak. I began using this mantra-like prayer in order to begin the alignment process.
“HaShem, let my mind be in alignment with You.
Hashem, let my heart be in alignment with You.
HaShem, let my soul be in alignment with You.
And let me feel that You hear me.”
I must admit that this mantra is still quite helpful in brewing up some kavanah. Still, what I actually just recently realized is that it was helping me align myself. I know that sounds weird (much like all of this), but I can explain.
As a person with severe ADHD, it is a constant struggle to connect my conscious thought process to the task at hand. Even if I’m actively composing a sentence in writing or on a keyword, my conscious mind may very well be honed in on the sound of the air conditioner or on a neighborhood cat outside of my window. The “H” in “ADHD” stands for hyperactivity, which could explain why one of my legs is constantly bouncing or why if I’m standing, I’m either swiveling at the hips or possibly rocking back and forth. Long story short, my body and mind are rarely in alignment themselves. How could I then expect my entire being to be aligned with the Creator of the Universe?
I recently added a line to the mantra:
“HaShem, let my body be in alignment with You.”
When I tried to align my fidgeting body with my scattered mind and my gut-based soul, I found that I was actively aligning myself in order to align with the Creator of the Universe. Much like a radio not only requires a properly aligned antenna, but also an accurately tuned frequency, there was no chance of proper alignment with HaShem during prayer if I wasn’t successfully aligning the many facets of myself.
Upon coming to this realization, this self-alignment felt reminiscent of the inner workings of a lock. As every pin is aligned within the chamber, the entire mechanism becomes unlocked.
Much in this same way, when the body, mind, heart, and soul are in alignment, the person becomes “unlocked” in order to connect with the Creator of the Universe in prayer and in performing mitzvot.
Before your set prayers, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and repeat the following mantra-like prayer as many times as you need to:
HaShem, let my body be in alignment with You,
HaShem, let my mind be in alignment with You,
HaShem, let my heart be in alignment with You,
HaShem, let my soul be in alignment with You,
And let me feel that You hear me.
Don’t reach out from your mind. Instead, reach out from your guts. Feel free to repeat this as many times is necessary. Imagine the multiple facets of your being in unified into one being. Imagine each aspect of these parts of yourself aligning with the Creator of the Universe like a laser beam. When you feel like your focus is slipping during prayer, reconvene your many parts and project your unified self to the Creator once again.
“Adonai, bring words to my lips, let my mouth declare Your praise.” – Psalm 51:17 / Opening of the Amidah.
Consistent, daily prayer is somewhat of a new thing for me. Years went by where I badly wanted to be the person who just wasn’t themselves without wrapping themselves up in a tallit and tefillin and having a morning teleconference with Infinite Truth of the Universe. I wanted to be like those people who humblebrag that, “I’m just not myself if I don’t get my 9-mile run in every morning.”…but, you know, for prayer.
Finally, in much the same way many people develop new habits, I forced myself to become dependent on my morning davening. First, I started with at least the Shema and the Ve’ahavta. It wasn’t too long before I added the Amidah, aka The Shemonah Esrei, aka the 18 Blessings. This prayer is the meat patty in the hamburger of Jewish prayer. Fortunately, it only takes about 10-15 minutes to do with kavanah (alignment/intent).
Eventually, I got over the hurdle of actually budgeting time to pray. I was beginning to really taste what I was eating. The basic formula of the Amidah is talking about Who the Creator is with preceding descriptions.
“Pardon us….(insert accolades here)…Blessed are You Adonai, gracious One who pardons abundantly.”
“Hear our voice…(insert descriptive reasonings why here)… Blessed are You Adonai, who hears prayer.”
This is the general theme for blessings ranging from desiring a fruitful year, teshuvah (repentence), deliverance, salvation, restoration, to peace and much more. However, there was one prayer that first made me feel that these brachot, these blessings, were affirmations with the powerful persuasion of a Jedi mind trick.
“My G‑d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully…”
One day at work at around 4:45 PM, the volume of the usual workplace chatter began to increase as people prepared to leave for the day. The topic of discussion was of a former co-worker with a checkered past. Due to this person’s absence, everyone felt free to chime in on their thoughts about this individual. Going around the room, someone had asked me, “Ken, you worked with him. Do you have any bizarre stories?” Oh, buddy did I ever. I had them all in the chamber, ready to fire. As I was about to blurt them out like any other gossiper, certain words rang out in my head.
“….guard my tongue from evil…”
Was what I was about to say useful? Was it productive? Was it even nice? No. I simply side-stepped the request for feedback with a, “Not really.”
Now, do I believe that the Creator of the Universe reached down from the heavens and covered my mouth before I could talk smack on this former co-worker? I honestly don’t believe so. In fact, I don’t really believe that the Holy One intercedes in the behavior of creation very frequently. We were given free will and I believe the Creator respects our ability to make utter fools of ourselves. What I do believe happened was a literal answer to my prayers via the prayer itself.
As I would pray these positive attributes every day, taking words from a book and speaking them as truth into my life, I was slowly aligning my will with that of the Creator of the Universe. In essence, tefillah is not about begging the Creator to intercede and change the winds in our favor. True tefillah is an act of aligning ourselves to the Creator’s will and conditioning ourselves to remain in that zone. In the way the robust mind of a Jedi is able to impact the thinking of a weaker minded individual, prayer is the Creator realigning our weak (by comparison) minds to embrace G-dly attributes. The Holy One did not stop my tongue from speaking evil but rather gave me the strength I had requested in order to keep myself from succumbing to the temptation to speak evil.
When we internalize the words of the Amidah and of other prayers that contain positive attributes, they help to shape our behavior as well as how we perceive the world and its inhabitants.
There is a tradition within Chasidic Judaism of following the lifestyle habits of one’s teacher extremely closely. This teacher is known as a “Rebbe.” It is not uncommon for these students to completely emulate their Rebbe. They wear the same style of clothes. They eat similar foods in a similar way. They make similar gestures and even mimic the way their Rebbe speaks. Imagine for a moment that in two hours, it’s announced that you are slated to become the Rebbe of a group of thousands of these “chasidim” — pious students. They will copy the way you dress, what time you go to bed, how you spend your leisure time, how you treat other people, and basically almost every other aspect of your life.
Would you be prepared to be emulated in such a way?
Would your lifestyle require some refining before you took this position?
Would you want to emulate such a person as yourself?
At this point, you’re probably pondering your habits…and grimacing. The good news is that, with some time and effort, all of your habits can be changed. One way to free yourself from bad habits is by setting rules for yourself — your own self-torah.
Writing Your Own Torah
There is an instruction in the Torah that every king must write a copy of the Torah for himself. I’m certainly not suggesting that your torah should supersede the Torah given to Moshe if you’re a religious Jew. However, in order to help free you from bad habits, establishing your own personal rules and standards for life can help you come closer to being the Rebbe you could realistically see following.
Building Rules To Become Your Best You
Setting arbitrary rules that aren’t focused on a goal won’t stick around as long as goal-rooted rules. Setting a bedtime for yourself will lack weight if waking up earlier has no benefit for you. Think about the kind of person you want to become and then reverse engineer what rules will help you accomplish this. Have a mindset of less of “it would be nice if…” and more of “this type of person does this,” etc.
Design Your Ideal Self First
Before you start thinking about which rules will help develop the best you, you need to define and design what the best “you” looks like. Take a few minutes to think about what this person is doing at any given hour of the day. What kind of habits do they have? How do they treat people? Imagine you’re studying your ideal Rebbe.
My Rebbe takes advantage of the early morning hours to read, pray, meditate, and prepare for the day.
He’s an altruistic soul, giving charity and volunteering time to those in need in his community.
He’s a focused, efficient and successful worker.
He’s a family man — raising children to have an appreciation for the simple things in life.
He’s a loving husband — giving his wife the proper attention and support to sustain their relationship.
He is mindful of his blessings throughout the day.
He’s honest in all of his dealings and speech.
He’s always looking to expand and increase his creative endeavors.
Create an hour-by-hour log of what your ideal Rebbe be doing at any given time.
Gauge If Keeping These Rules Will Bring Contentment
When designing your ideal “you”, take as much time as you need to in order to gauge if this new lifestyle will bring you contentment. If your rules are more focused on making money, take a few days to really consider if having more money or goods will actually make you more content with life. In many instances, downsizing possessions may actually bring more contentment than acquiring more “stuff.” Make sure that your destination is where you want to end up.
Customizing The Rules To The Ideal Rebbe, Not The Other Way Around
Now that we have some examples for an ideal Rebbe ( this is an ideal Rebbe, not the only ideal Rebbe), we can begin to craft some detailed rules to help us get there. For example: If he wants to be someone who wants to take advantage of the early morning, he’ll need to get to sleep at a reasonable time. A helpful rule would be to say he begins getting ready for bed at 9:45 PM and is in bed by 10 PM. If he wants to be an efficient worker, other rules could include not using social media at work or no multitasking when working on a single assignment. Parenting goals could include putting your phone away around your children or making sure you have a date night with your wife on a predetermined day. These rules should always correspond with the character traits of your Ideal Rebbe.
Some Ideas For Non-Specific Goals
Sometimes, there are simply some rules that are handy for being a more well-rounded individual. There’s nothing wrong with these. In fact, these rules may help you design your ideal Rebbe.
Exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes each time.
Read for 30 minutes a day. (I’m referring to books, not tweets or Facebook status updates.)
Every day, write down one thing you’re thankful for.
Compliment one person a day.
Never play with your phone or look at your computer screen when someone is talking to you.
Be home for dinner at least four times a week.
Be five minutes early for every appointment.
Never criticize someone over email. If you want to offer constructive criticism, do it in person.
Spend the last 15 minutes of each workday planning for the next day.
Don’t check your email more than three times a day.
Whenever you make a phone call, out of courtesy ask the other party if it’s a good time for him or her to talk.
Don’t talk bad behind anyone’s back.
Once a month, ask your teacher, spouse or boss for feedback.
Proofread every email before sending it.
Other Rule Sources: Pirkei Avot
One of my favorite sources of rules that I can apply to my life is in the words of Pirkei Avot: The Ethics of Our Fathers. This tractate of Mishnah is full of applicable rules for living from some of the greatest Jewish sages.
What rules for living have you established for yourself already? Have you been able to keep them?