Prayer is a meeting of place, time, and the individual. It is referred to in Hasidut as Ashan (smoke) which is an acronym for olam (world, place), sha’ah (hour, time), and nefesh (soul, person). In my last blog I discussed how I experience finding myself in time. But the concept of place is strange when talking about prayer. Just as prayer is non-time bound or timeless, it can also be done anywhere and has a nowhere aspect to it. After all, you can connect with God anywhere because he is everywhere. I said before that I thought prayer was timeless, so we should be praying all the time. Also, if we are praying all the time, anywhere we are go , we are there to discover the aspect of God hidden in that place, that can only be revealed through the once-in-an-eternity occurrence of us being there at that specific time. There is an unfortunate aspect of modern life and Google earth. We have forgotten and become disconnected with the experience of place. Virtual reality is grammatically incorrect; there is no virtue in it at all. My birthday is a special day and celebrating it a day later is not the same. A holiday is a special day and blowing the shofar on Sukkot does nothing. In the same manner, places have their own special identity and effect. And we connect to them in a unique way. It is an unfortunate inherent flaw in the very concept of the United States. America is not a homeland, except to the Native Americans and Eskimos. Even the Spanish Speakers in Central and South America do not have a family, genetic, connection to the land. World War One rearranged the world map, messing with the concept of nationality. I feel that was one of the reasons for establishing the League of Nations after that war; to try to make sense out of something that had been eternally clear and self-evident, and was now an indecipherable mess. A person used to be defined by where he was. Now, the concept of place is not understood. Most people believe that every place is like the other. Not only is that incorrect, but I feel that to believe so is evil. It isn’t wrong, because there is some truth to that statement. It is correct, but evil. I am fascinated by Las Vegas. It is remarkable that they built Las Vegas to look like anywhere and everywhere. You might have thought the Eifel Tower was special to Paris, but no. It can be anywhere. Even in the middle of the Nevada desert. Same for the Sphinx, and the Statue of Liberty. You might have thought that you were in a desert except for the spectacular displays of water. It is all a massive deception. I could be wrong, but I think that prayer is a point of truth in our daily life. Truth is what you want to build your life around. In order to do that we have to have a clear and undisguised concept of who we are and where we stand in creation. The unique experience of reality of when we are, where we are, and who we are. Every place is unique. Who we are when we stand on that space is unique. The Gemara in Brachot says that if you are praying outside of Israel, you should direct your heart towards Israel, if you are in Israel you should direct your heart towards Jerusalem, in Jerusalem toward the Temple mount, on the Temple mount towards the Holy of Holies, in the Holy of holies towards the seat of mercy. The Gemara could have given one direction for all. It is clear that your essential self and your prayer are a product of where you are. A Jew outside of Israel is essentially different than a Jew in Israel, and his prayers are necessarily different. Coming physically closer to the Holy of Holies raises your spiritual consciousness. After Adam sinned, the first question God asks him is “Where are you?” It is a strange question, given the circumstances.
When you turn to talk to God, the first question you need to ask is ‘Where am I?’
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