By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
This past Shabbos, we started learning Rav Melamed’s Peninei Halachah, his sefer on hilchot tefillah. In it, he addresses the technical and halachic requirements of which tefillos need the proper kavanah (intent), and how to improve one’s concentration when it doesn’t come naturally.
This gathering isn’t something I’ve been involved in, but Jeremy quickly incorporated it into our weekly repertoire at the house minyan we host on Shabbos.
At lunch earlier that day, he had mentioned that the wife of a man who’s a regular at the chaburah between Minchah and Ma’ariv wanted to attend for this new topic, and it is one I’ve always struggled with—prayer.
I resolved that if she came by, I’d join her and make it less uncomfortable for her so she wouldn’t be the only woman in attendance.
She walked in as the day was winding down, and we took our posts at the end of the table, among the regulars who ate shalosh seudos as they learned. And I reflected on how different things were for me lately. How, despite living in the same house, block, and community among the same friends, I’m meeting new people I hadn’t known in the past who have lived among us for even longer than we’ve been here.
I’m doing things I never dreamed of doing and enjoying the process of learning more about parts of me I didn’t know existed.
I’m married to a man whose most frequent comment is: “I have a sefer on that!” And then he proceeds to go through different sources with much excitement.
As I write this, we’re driving towards Kibbutz Ga’ash, the location of a wedding we’re attending for Jeremy’s oldest friend’s daughter.
In the past, I’d regularly miss local weddings as close as The White Shul (roughly 10 minutes from my house), so hopping on a 10-hour plane ride and leaving the kids for a week isn’t something I’ve done before, but I suppose the ripple effect of a life changed causes change in various ways beyond the obvious initial ones.
And while there’s a part of me that questions every unfamiliar decision made lately, it’s also met with much anticipation for a new experience.
In the introduction of the sefer, Rav Melamed speaks of something I’ve written about in these articles—the observation that tefillah is easier to commit to and to communicate through when a person is in pain.
Like a songwriter who’s been through heartbreak who writes music that people truly feel, or like Dovid HaMelech who authored Sefer Tehillim while on the run from Shaul and managed to write a beautiful rendition of his praise to G-d, or like me, who wrote articles for years on loss and grief, it’s easy to find yourself pouring out the contents of your soul through the written word, through music, or through prayer, especially in the throes of deep discomfort.
It was the only balm when there was no one else who could help me with my sadness.
There’s a sense of desperation when things in life aren’t working in your favor, and though I hate that I waited until life fell apart for me to start expressing how much I needed G-d’s help, I also knew that it was the only way I’d get through this intact.
As we sat around the table discussing Rav Melamed’s introduction, one of the men at the table brought up a story I had heard on a different occasion from Rabbi Shay Schachter.
I had attended his Tuesday morning shiur and heard his personal account of spending time in Camp Simcha during the summer.
Upon speaking to some campers about prayer, they expressed how they missed that connection to G-d they used to feel when they were sick and going through cancer treatments.
And as I listened to Rabbi Schachter speak, I couldn’t help but cry.
It’s a natural response when you hear such honesty coming from anyone who’s been through hell, but it also brought me back to the hardest time in my life.
It might sound like a crazy thought to express out loud, but it made perfect sense to me.
When my kids fall and hurt themselves, they seldom try to figure out how to make themselves feel better. Instead, they run to me, their mother.
It usually begins with scanning the injury in question, and if it’s not too serious, the next order of business is a hug. Just to make them realize that they’re not alone.
It’s the love and comfort and reassurance that it’s going to be OK, even if things hurt in the present moment.
Somehow, with pain and discomfort comes an awareness that you don’t necessarily get when times are good and things are calm and happy.
It’s as if there’s more clarity when life seems so unclear.
It’s the reason we commemorate certain days of mourning with fasting—the hunger and the emptiness remind us of what we’re doing and why we feel the way we do.
We’re all the same, even as we age. Except as we get older, we turn to G-d when times get tough.
To me, at times it almost feels like He’s tapping us on the shoulder to remind us that He’s here and would like some attention, too.
With the introduction in mind, I stood at the Kotel and thought about where life had taken me during these last few years.
About how different my response to prayer would have been if I hadn’t gone through all we did.
I thought about how the hardest times in life are accompanied by the deepest connection, the most gratitude, and the best insight.
How G-d designs things in such a way for us to respond and how even though it doesn’t seem ideal, in the long run that’s when we learn the most about how gratifying the relationship between man and G-d can be. n
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.