Another thing that’s always confused me has been the idea that we are supposed to try to develop a relationship with Hakadosh Boruch Hu. How can a flesh-and-blood person, limited by physical and moral weakness, ever hope to have anything resembling a “relationship” with the all-knowing, all-powerful King of the Universe?
To make the conundrum even more perplexing, how are we supposed to go about developing said relationship when, for 2,000 years, Hashem has hidden Himself from us? We have neither seen His open miracles nor heard His pronouncements through His prophets. How are we to create a bond in such darkness?
And yet, it seems that it is incumbent upon us to do so. So how do we reach out and develop a relationship with Hashem? Let’s see if we can puzzle it out together.
Relationships come in many forms. As a nation, we regard Hashem as our Creator, our Protector, our King. A king’s job is to regulate the affairs of his kingdom from within and to defend it from enemies that threaten it from without. Our position vis-à-vis our King is to honor, to worship, to supplicate for our needs and to bask in His protection. We obey His guidelines for life, which are designed to help us reach our potential as human beings and to keep society running in the best possible way.
We shower Him with praise because that is our way of underscoring the reality of who He is and what He is to us. And always, we express our thanks for the bounty He continues to shower on us. He is a benevolent King, and we are His grateful subjects.
But Hashem wants more than just our awe at His might or our gratitude for His bounty. He wants our love. The brochah before Shema proclaims that Hashem chose us with love, and it is immediately followed by our recital of the command to love Him back. So maybe the way to develop a true relationship with the Almighty is to deepen our feelings of love for him, and to learn how to better express that love.
There are many forms of love. As we say in Avinu Malkeinu, Hashem is not only our King, but also our caring and compassionate Father. Fathers must be obeyed, just like a king, but the relationship is much more personal. The ideal way to perform the mitzvah of honoring our mortal father is not merely to obey his requests, but to plumb the depth of his wishes so that we can fulfill them in the best possible way. For example, if your father asks for a drink, you can simply fill a glass with water… or you can add ice, a straw and a twist of lemon because you know that’s how he likes it best. It’s all about how much you care.
In zemiros on Shabbos, we refer to Hashem as Yedid Nefesh: a friend of the heart. In the passage leading up to Shemoneh Esrei, Bnei Yisroel are called yedidim—dear friends. This would seem to move our relationship with Him onto a different plane entirely. The relationship of King and subject, or even King and close servant, is very different from that of a pair of friends. Without taking anything away from our reverence and awe for Hakadosh Boruch Hu, we can deepen our bond with Him by doing the things that friends do for one another.
Friends enter into each other’s realities. If I truly care about you, I will try to understand your point of view and give it my full empathy. Similarly, Hashem wants us to see things from His perspective and to act accordingly. When we fall away from the Divine perspective into a wholly human one, we weaken that precious bond.
Friends pay attention to one another. In our tefillah, we try to communicate with Hashem much the way friends do. It doesn’t matter that we can’t see Him: people who walk around with a Bluetooth in their ear are also talking to someone they can’t see, and usually with great animation. We owe our relationship with Hashem that same animation.
Davening with kavanah—that is, to actually reflect on and mean the words that are coming out of our mouths—is not only preferable, but essential. To treat Hakadosh Boruch Hu with any less focus than we would treat a friend on the phone is not merely disrespectful: it also reflects a diminished faith in the fact that He is listening as we speak. And it precludes the truth that He answers our prayers, all the time, in the form of the blessings and salvations that He continually bestows on us. We just need to have the eyes to see it, and the ears to hear what He is saying.
Friends delight in one another’s company. If you don’t feel happy when you’re together, the other person is probably not a real friend. Each time we have a chance to reach out to Hashem with joy and to revel in His Presence, we are cementing the bond.
Suppose you repeatedly meet a certain person on your daily walk. You can murmur a perfunctory “Hello” and continue on your way. You can exert yourself to tack on a smile. Best of all, you can really see the other person. You can show her that she is real to you and not just part of the passing scenery. You can create a bond by taking an interest in her and by sharing things that are of concern to you. You can turn even a casual passer-by into a person with whom you have a relationship.
One way to make our tefillah more meaningful is by customizing it, the way we might customize a car or a sheitel. Don’t be just another voice in the crowd. Make your davening reflect who you are and the particular life circumstances with which you are struggling. The brachos of Shemoneh Esrei encompass many needs which we all share, but there are times in life when a particular need takes on special urgency. We can use that brocha to personalize our davening before Hashem.
Here is an example. I was living in Eretz Yisrael during the Gulf War, when Iraq was bombarding the country with missiles that may or may not have been armed with chemical or biological toxins. At the wail of the siren, we had to scurry into our sealed rooms. Even when the schools reopened, our children had to leave home with their schoolbag over one shoulder and a gas mask over the other. Our nights were interrupted by the warning of incoming shells and our days filled with trepidation. Buildings were damaged by those missiles and yet, miraculously, there were almost no casualties.
Each day, when I said Modim, the prayer of thanks, I noticed that the brocha expresses gratitude to Hashem for Your miracles that are with us every day… evening, morning and afternoon. What a perfect prayer during a war where destruction could, and did, rain down at any time of the day or night, only to be stymied by Hashem’s benevolent protection! Ever since then, Modim has taken on a special meaning for me. A recognition, and an acknowledgement, of His constant caring, protection and miracles. In any place and at any time that I might need them.
The more we make our communication with Hashem personal and specific, the more we move it out of the generic and into something that is relevant to our unique circumstances. No two relationships are exactly alike. By paying attention, taking joy and making it personal, we have the power to forge a real connection. A loving connection. A custom-made connection with which to serve our creator.