Wow. Please. Sorry. Thanks. These are the emotions that prompted a person to bring a sacrifice to God and that are the wellsprings for our prayers.
This week we begin Leviticus/ויקרא, the middle of the Five Books of Moses. The rabbis teach that children should begin their studies with Leviticus for child-like wonder is the mindset for such offerings to God.
Traditional prayers are a collection of our communal letters to God. Each was originally prompted by a specific moment: the rising of the sun, the preparation to read Torah, the awareness that the world needs peace. To echo those words personally requires us to speak “as if” God is listening. We are called to use our prayers to tap into our beginner’s mind, a letting go of surface pretense. Our prayers educate us to appreciate what we might otherwise take for granted. They also model putting into our own words- wow, please, sorry, and thanks.
Vayikra, means “And He called,” proclaiming God’s address of Moses. In the Torah scroll, scribes traditionally write the final letter of the first word with a small aleph (א). Some sages say that the small letter conveys Moses’ humility, not wanting to call attention to the honor of being called by God (Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, Germany 1269-1340). Jewish mystics noted that the aleph, whose numerical value is one, is in form a combination of three other letters (yud, yud, and vav). These three letters add up in gematria (Hebrew numerology) to twenty-six, the same count as YHVH (God’s intimate, Hebrew name). Perhaps the little aleph also conveys that we are called by the Supreme One when we pay attention to the small, still voice at our center.
To experience the power of prayer, consider writing a letter to God. You will find that you are surprised by the words that emerge spontaneously and unselfconsciously. Words to God are unfiltered. Afterwards, consider writing a second letter as if God were writing back to you, an act of Divine empathy. In the letter back, you will discover a voice of love.
Wow. Please. Sorry. Thanks. Prayer enables us to express our core emotions and primary values. In doing so, we draw closer to our essential selves and to God.