[First posted at The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/clean-prayer/]
Ibn Ezra Genesis: Vayishlach
“Cut your morning devotions into your personal grooming. You would not go out to work with a dirty face. Why start the day with the face of your soul unwashed?” -Robert A. Cook
Through fate and circumstance, I’ve had opportunity to observe many types of groups and religions at prayer in different parts of the world. Whether it was Christians in one of the resplendent churches of the city of Ouro Preto, Brazil, Muslims in the Blue Mosque of Istanbul or Buddhists in Bangkok, there are a number of common denominators to the act of prayer.
There is typically a seriousness, an awe, a somberness, in the realization that one is confronting a higher power. It is perhaps ironic then that in Judaism, especially in a number of Orthodox Jewish synagogues, these aspects may be lacking in communal prayer. One is more likely to find disinterest, boredom, chatting and a great rush to be done with it. It would appear as more of an obligation that one needs to discharge rather than an opportunity to reach God in a place, at a time and with a group that is particularly structured for such a purpose.
Perhaps it is the burden of having such meetings so frequently. Perhaps it is the regularity of it. The predictability. The liturgy. I don’t know. However, perhaps the worst offense is when someone rushes into the synagogue with dirty clothing.
After the fracas of Jacob’s children with the Canaanite city of Shechem, Jacob orders his camp to get rid of any idols, wash up and change their clothing. Ibn Ezra (on Genesis 35:2) adds that this is the source that when one goes to a fixed place to pray, he should do so with a clean body and garments.
May we always show the appropriate attitude when praying, inside and out.
To my friends and neighbors in synagogue. Let’s cut the chatter a bit.