One of my favorite traditional texts is found in Rashi’s interpretation of Psalm 23, verse 1. Commenting on the introductory phrase: “Mizmor L’david“, A Song of David, Rashi writes:  The Rabbis said: Wherever it says: “A song of David,” he would play [his musical instrument] and afterwards the Shechinah, the Divine presence, would rest on him. And, wherever it says: “L’David Mizmor” Of David, a song, the Shechinah rested on him [first] and then he recited a song.

I love this idea. Sometimes, the inspiration of the Divine presence inspired David to sing. Other times, he sang and thereby brought the Divine presence to him.

This is a critical text to consider when we think about prayer in Jewish tradition. Sometimes, we are deeply moved and inspired to pray. Sometimes, the prayer itself is what brings the inspiration.

Our tradition teaches: Mitoch she lo lishma ba lishma, performing a religious act even when we are not inspired to do so is important because performing the act can itself bring the inspiration.

This is a beautiful thought and one which is often proven true. Saying the words of a prayer can inspire us in unexpected and unanticipated ways.

But, I think that there is a larger context that we should consider and I discussed this in my podcast last week. Sometimes, the inspiration does not come immediately but comes nonetheless.

Each morning, I put on my tallit and tefillin and say the morning prayers. After so many years of doing this each morning, it has become routine and I will admit that some (many?) mornings I am neither inspired by the Divine to be moved to prayer nor do I have a revelation of the Divine presence during the prayer.

But, that does not mean the inspiration does not come.

By beginning the day in this way, I think we are providing a context for the day and part of that context is to open ourselves us to the reality that sometime during the day we will be moved by something we see, something we hear, something we experience that will bring us that inspiration that we so deeply seek.

It is unreasonable to expect that every religious ritual we perform will transform us immediately by giving us a glimpse of that which is greater than us. But, by structuring our lives around these rituals, we are making a statement that we are ready and willing to be inspired during the course of the day. The rituals remind us that sometime each day we can be inspired to sing a psalm of our own. And, more often than not, that psalm will come.

You can hear more on this subject on the episode of my podcast Wrestling and Dreaming: Engaging Discussions on Judaism entitled Searching and Finding.

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