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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on November 7, 2020

There is a strange way we describe our silent prayer- the standing prayer. Aside from the fact that many traditions do just the opposite, Buddhists sit and Muslims kneel, it is a strange moniker for the prayer. Standing happens to be how we do the prayer, but isn’t the content of the prayer a more telling aspect of what it is?

 

Furthermore, if we contrast that with the beginning with the service we see a major difference. The service begins almost intentionally with sitting when we say the shema. Although it is not an obligation, it is the prevailing custom to sit when we say the shema. Why is it that we start the service sitting, and then transition to standing, and then we specifically sit again for the end with the prayer that is called the ‘holiness said sitting’?

This is relevant to this week parsha because of the first verse in the parsha. It says that Avraham was ‘sitting’ at the entrance of his tent. The midrash notes that it is spelled missing a ‘vav’ which implies that ‘he sat’ as if ‘he sat down’. The midrash elaborates that Avraham wanted to stand and G-d told him to sit down. G-d then says that because Avraham wanted to stand that G-d would stand in the future. What is the idea?

 

Standing implies a readiness to serve. We are standing at attention ready to be asked to carry out a task. Avraham wanted to stand, ready to welcome guests. G-d was so amazed by Avraham’s dedication to carry out G-d’s will that he said that in the future He would carry out the will of Jewish judges that make additions to His Torah. The depth of this is that when we stand and pray, the form is important because it connotes that we are standing at the ready to serve and partner with G-d to change the world. This is the unique Jewish vision of the world. We don’t merely submit to G-d or try to sooth our inner turmoil by trying to will our self away, but we stand in partnership. We just need His help in doing so. Shema in contrast we sit and want to fix G-d kingship in this world. This is the balance of life. There are parts that we want to establish as reality and parts that we need to change. Those are the two aspects of prayer that we connect to every morning- we sit and hope to fix G-d’s presence in the world and then we stand ready to make the necessary changes in the world to bring about that reality with G-d’s help.

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