Friday, July 08, 2005

Sending prayers to Jerusalem is quicker going East, instead of West

I've never hidden that I'm not a big fan of adults entertaining childlike beliefs about God and Torah because I contend that a grownup isn't growing if they haven't moved much past the second grade. Hashem, kavyachol, may have been the biggest man with the longest beard you could think of sitting on a blue sapphire throne then, but something should have progressed over the next decades.

With that in mind, we come to a letter in this week's Yated Ne'eman, brought to our attention by Avraham Bronstein. A person writes of the importance of a mizrach* sign. Okay, it's not the pressing issue of the age, but so what. The person gives several reasons why care should be taken to have a mizrach sign displayed, including as a courtesy to guests. Then we are told that one of its benefits is that
The mizrach sign guides the uninformed as to the proper direction to send prayers to Hashem in Yerushalayim. Facing west will take longer for our tefillos to reach Yerushalayim. Facing north or south misses the place completely (as any reader can verify by examining a globe).
Now, now. This is naive. This isn't--in my opinion--how an adult should think of tefillah. (Come to think of it, am I even sure an adult wrote the letter? But I digress.)
This stuff isn't my thing. But on the other hand....there is a story, perhaps involving the Ari, about a couple who were very naive but very pious. The husband heard his rabbi teach about the lehem ha-panim, the show-bread kept in the Beis Hamikdash. When it became clear to him that the lehem ha-panim is no longer being offered, kavyachol, to God in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash, he reasoned that it must make God very sad. So he told his wife and together they decided that they would bake lehem ha-panim for Hashem. So the man spent money on the best grain to be had and together he and his wife produced the best grade flour possible. And they lovingly toiled and produced beautiful loaves. The man then went to shul and deposited the loaves in the Aron Ha-kodesh, with a sincere prayer that Hashem should accept their show-bread.
Now, the shul has a shammash who saw this. Curious, he opened the aron and saw the bread. He didn't get it, but it was good bread so he took it. The next week the man came back with more bread and was astonished that the bread was gone. Hashem must have taken their offering! He and his wife were ecstatic, and very naive, this went on for weeks. Finally the rabbi got wind of the situation and sat them down and told them 'the facts of life'. Tails tucked between their legs, their chin on the ground they never offered lehem ha-panim again.
Said the Ari, klapay shemaya (in Heaven) God hadn't had a hana'ah since the days of the Beis Hamikdash like He did by this lehem ha-panim.
Look, not everyone is a philosopher. Not everyone is sophisticated. That's not a crime. To this day people loathe the idea of the Ba'al Shem Tov. That's not Judaism, they say. Whistling on Yom Kippur is negged halakha, they say. But lema'aseh, not everyone is a philosopher or a theologian or a talmid chokhom. No big deal.
*Mizrach sign = a sign that reads mizrach, or East, which indicates the direction of Jerusalem from the West.

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