10 Elul – praying to be able to pray

Elul 10  18th August 2021

Rabbi Eliezer said “Let a person first prepare their prayer, and afterwards they should worship” (B.Talmud: Rosh Hashanah 33a)

A few weeks ago we read the sidra “va’etchanan”. In it, Moses speaks of his conversation with God, that he pleaded to be able to cross the Jordan and see the land that the Israelites had been returning to the last forty years since leaving Egypt. His pain and disappointment are palpable in the text (Deuteronomy 3:3), God’s answer to him harsh – “Enough, never speak of this again” mitigated only slightly with the instruction “go up to the Pisgah and look around, West, North, South, East. Look well, for you shall not cross the Jordan. Give Joshua his instructions….” (3:27ff)

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev picks up on what seems to be an extra word in the first verse – I pleaded with God at that time leimor (saying/to say) saying that “Moses pleaded (va’etchanan) for the ability to pray, for he needed to speak but was unable to do so.

We don’t know what Levi Yitzhak saw as the impediment to Moses’ prayer, but his reading is powerful. Sometimes we can’t begin to pray.

If prayer seems too hard to do, then begin gently. Look for the words of others that might help you, it can be the traditional prayer book or it can be poetry or songs. Find some music that moves you, that you can lose yourself in and let your mind roam. Set aside a few minutes each day with nothing to do but to be and know yourself as a living being.

Elul is the month when tradition says that God is most accessible. Whatever the impediment to prayer, like Moses we can pray that we can find it within ourselves to express ourselves in prayer.

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