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Prayer Insights

I Imagine G-d as a Person

How can I pray without disturbing images in my mind?

| 11.06.18 | 04:39
I Imagine G-d as a Person
Sigalit asks: “I believe with all my heart that G-d has no body and no physical appearance. Unfortunately, every time I think of how I stand before G-d in prayer and how HE sees me, I see a person. I once read of a woman that kept all the mitzvoth but when she left the world and her deceased relatives came to receive her in the Garden of Eden she was denied entry. This was because she had an image of G-d in her mind and this is against one of the 13 articles of faith. Knowing this story, I wage a battle in my mind trying to vanquish the image I see, but soon after, the image comes back. I worry I may be remiss in keeping this article of faith and I’d like to know what I can do against this image recurring in my mind that disturbs my simple service of G-d?"

Answer:  It is quite possible that you’re suffering from bothersome repetitive thoughts. In such a case our rabbis tell us not to fight the thought rather to ignore it just as you would ignore the noise of a barking dog when you’re praying. You wouldn’t dare go to the window and shout at the dog to shut up when you’re praying so here too don’t try to silence these thoughts, rather  calmly flow with them and ignore them. They do not portray your true faith in G-d. Experience shows that fighting the images just intensifies them.

You should know that as long as you didn’t choose these thoughts you won’t be held guilty for them. This is your test from heaven and you should accept your tests with equanimity. It’s clear from your words that you don’t really believe in your mind that G-d has a body so in your case don’t give these images any importance.

I’m not familiar with the story of the woman you mentioned nor do I know its source. But I believe that even if true, this story was meant to portray a woman that purposefully thought of G-d as physical and thought we serve G-d similar to how non-Jews worship: by praying to idols and symbols and other physical items.  Either way, don’t get up tight about it because G-d doesn’t come in protest against man and He knows you and knows your intentions are good. If we think we are compassionate, G-d is infinitely more so!

After you get calm about this, you can then progress. You can develop for yourself a new individual approach to prayer. Instead of Imagining you’re standing before someone, imagine concentrating your heart to the heavens. For the heavens are a physical representation of what is beyond us and our comprehension. As such, the heavens help portray G-d’s infinite exaltedness. Our Earth on the other hand, portrays only the physical and our limited knowledge of what is in front of us.

Therefore we focus our hearts to “Our Father in Heaven”. We realize that we pray to G-d, who is above and beyond any vision or image yet fills all of space. Maimonides instructed us: “When one stands in prayer he should keep his feet together and straight with his eyes downwards as if looking at the ground. But his heart should be turned to heaven as if he’s standing in the heavens.” (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Prayer Chapter 5, Law 4)

this week's torah portion
If you concentrate on praying to the place immediately in front of you, you will imagine a small human like G-d. But if you pray looking towards the heavens towards the vast universe, you’ll feel an elevated feeling and wonderment. You’ll never be able to imagine G-d as human!  For someone in heaven is greater and mightier than our ability to comprehend what he’s like and greater than any limiting physicality.

Therefore when you pray, bend your head downwards in humility but your thoughts should be to the lofty mighty heavens above you. Focus your words to the heavens; speak to G-d as a lofty being, far far above you, yet he listens to your words and sees you from on high.  Exchange your thoughts of an unseen person to feelings of the exaltedness of G-d that fills all the heavens and who is so great that none of our comprehension can attain him. Yet this Lofty G-d hears your prayers and knows what you’re feeling like a father holding his small child understanding him and worrying for him.

Have you ever heard of the “Twin Parable” where one twin in their mother’s womb says to the other; “Who says we have a mother? Have you ever seen her?” The other twin answers; “our mother surrounds us from all sides, gives life every moment and we feel her warmth. She sustains us with food, water and oxygen through our umbilical cord. All this comes from her exclusively so I know she loves and cares for us very much.”

The first twin responds; “I feel bad here, it’s getting tighter and tighter here! Not only that, but as soon as we get disconnected from our umbilical cord we’re going to die without food or oxygen. Does our mother really love us?” the second twin replies: “I see our mother worrying for us, feeding us and giving us to drink daily. I have no doubt that she didn’t bring us into this world to suffer! I’m certain that there is purpose in the pain and discomfort we are going through. I therefore believe that even when we disconnect from our umbilical cord we won’t die. There is a plan and purpose; we will live after our birth!

With G-d’s help, when you get accustomed to concentrate your heart to “Your Father in Heaven” you’ll come to the day that you’ll feel this exact feeling; that G-d wraps all around you as if you are a baby in your mother’s womb. So too, G-d is with you everywhere in the heavens and on earth as the Prophets say: ‘if he hides in concealed placed, will I not see him? So Says G-d, indeed, I fill the heavens and the earth”. (Jeremiah 23, 24)

Our sages taught us (Berachot, 10a): “Just as G-d fills the world so too our soul fills our whole body, just as G-d sustains the whole world so too our soul sustains our whole body. Just as G-d is pure so too our soul is pure, just as G-d sits in inner chambers so too our soul sits in inner chambers.” And in Bereshith Rabbah (2,26) it says: “Let the soul that sees and isn’t seen come and praise G-d who sees and is not seen.”

So now you can start focusing your thoughts to your “Father in heaven”. I wish you much success.