Torah Is a Way of Worshipping God
If worship is the effort to connect to God, Judaism teaches that
we don't have to do all the work ourselves.
By Rabbi Harold Kushner
Reprinted with permission from To
Life!: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking (Little, Brown
Jewish prayer is not a matter of informing God
as to what we believe and what we need, but of seeking His presence
and being transformed by it. We don't ask God to change the world
to make it easier for us. We ask Him only to assure us that He will
be with us as we try to do something hard.
Jews worship God through study. The central moments
of a Sabbath morning service are dedicated to reading aloud not
merely a brief passage from the Bible but several chapters of the
Torah, so that in the course of the year, the entire Five Books
of Moses will have been studied aloud [or, in some communities,
over a three-year cycle].
In the autumn, on Simchat Torah after the High
Holy Days, we begin "In the beginning," with the Creation
story, and week by week, chapter by chapter, omitting nothing (who
are we to pass judgment on God's word, deciding that the story of
Joseph and his brothers is edifying but the laws about leprosy and
menstrual flow are not?), we come to the end of Deuteronomy just
as we are running out of year and preparing for the Holy Day season
again. At that point, we are ready to start all over again, finding
new insights in the Torah, not because it has changed but because
Why this emphasis on study? One of my seminary
professors used to say, "When I pray, I speak to God. When
I study Torah, I keep quiet and let God speak to me." If worship
is the effort to connect with God, Judaism affirms that we don't
have to do all the work ourselves. God is prepared to meet us halfway.
By immersing ourselves in Torah, we transport ourselves back to
Sinai, to the presence of God. Some people have used fasting, drugs,
or forms of self-hypnosis to summon up the presence of God. We have
never had to resort to those measures. Like the wife whose husband
is away on a business trip and who conquers her loneliness by rereading
his letters, we turn to the Torah and feel God's presence.
A second reason for this unique emphasis on study
is the Jewish perception that what is uniquely human about a person
is his mind and his conscience. Our physical self is the part of
us that we share with the animals. Our mind and conscience are the
dimension we share with God. When we exercise our minds and consciences
by studying God's word on how a person should live, when we occupy
our thoughts with questions of how to carry out God's will rather
than with matters of finance, fashion, or sports, we feel that we
are developing our uniquely human aspect.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, Rabbi Laureate of Temple
Israel, Natick, Massachusetts, is the author of When
Bad Things Happen to Good People (Avon) and When
Children Ask About God (Schocken Books).