By Sara Blau
So you want to pray. You sit down, you open your prayer book. You are ready to dive in and get your spiritual boost for the day. You want to climb the ladder of spiritual levels and feel a real, intimate connection to G‑d.
There’s Step Zero. There is something to do before taking the plunge. Take a quick body check. Is your heart heavy? Are you holding onto any resentments? Because that is step zero. Remove the blockages; purge any hatred from your heart.
The Talmud teaches: Hashma l’aznecha ma ahe’atah motzi mipicha—“Make your ears hear what you utter from your mouth.”1 The Talmud literally refers to saying the Shema audibly, loud enough for your own ears to hear.
The holy Zohar explains this phrase deeper: Before one prays, one must make their ears hear. Truly hear. Hear in a way of internalizing, not repeating like a parrot.
Hear what? Hear what you utter from your mouth.
Who’s you? Atah (you) refers to the level that is the source of all Jewish souls, called Knesset Yisrael. Listen and internalize that at that level, all Jews are united, all souls are one. There is no me being angry at you because there is no me versus you. We are one.
You want to pray? You want to access deep levels of spirituality? Know that if you are disconnected from a fellow, your very being is disjointed. It’s like you’re missing a limb. Since his or her soul is part of yours, you are disconnected from a piece of your own soul. When you hate another Jew, you are hating a piece of your very self. Know that G‑d rests when there is unity, and His name is incomplete when we are divided. In order to connect to Him, you need to connect to all Jews for they complete you.
That is why we pray in the plural. In the Amidah, we say: Barcheinu avinu kulanu k’echad—“Bless us, our Father, all as one.”
And we even ask forgiveness in plural: Selach lanu avinu ki chatanu—“Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned … ”
By joining forces, prayer won’t be fractured joining forces, prayer won’t be fractured, where each Jew sings to his or her own tune, with many “songs.” Rather, if every Jew tunes into the unity of our comprehensive, shared soul, then prayer becomes the song of songs—a singular, united song of all Jewish souls blended together.
That is why it is customary to say before praying: Hareini mekabel alai mitzvat aseh shel v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha—“Behold, I hereby take upon myself the positive commandment of ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself.’ ”
So take a deep breath. Release the pent-up frustrations and grudges. Let them go.
And then, only then, begin to pray.