“King Solomon’s Blessing: Seven Types of Prayer”
By Rabbi Toba August, AJRCA Professor of Rabbinics
What is the role of the Temple for liberal Jews? My South Bay congregation meets in a church, and though we are growing, it is prohibitive for us to buy or purchase our own building. Periodically we have an ongoing discussion regarding the importance of a dedicated sacred space for prayer.
It is my 7th year, and after holding services in the Church’s sanctuary over High Holidays, many of my congregants, who are from interfaith marriages, believe that we can bring our hearts and spirits to whatever space we are in. The discussion continues and is reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Pekudei, which completes the longest narrative in the Torah.
One year after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites completed the building and furnishing of the “Mishkan Ohel Mo’ed” – The Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting,” the physical symbol of the indwelling presence of God among the people of Israel. Then God appears and approves of the peoples’ efforts as it stated: “….the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” Ex 40:34.
How the Mishkan is used and the role it plays is developed throughout the next three books of the Torah. But it is in this week’s Haftarah, I Kings 7:51-8:21, where we encounter King Solomon’s dedication of the first Temple in Jerusalem and his subsequent lengthy prayer, that we understand the comprehensive relationship between God and the ancient people of Israel.
In an essay by the late Rabbi Pinchas Peli, he asserted that the Tabernacle and the Temple were much more than a place of rituals for the sacrificial cult. By the time of King Solomon’s reign, though sacrifices were of course brought for the dedication ceremony, Solomon spoke during his blessing only of the role of prayer. Peli suggests that this prayer is the “echo” of later rabbinic insights, and includes seven models for prayer which still resonate with us today. Ultimately, the purpose for a Mishkan or a Temple is to be a place for people to encounter God with either joyful or broken hearts.
The first type of prayer is personal prayer. Solomon speaks in the plural but reiterates the importance of God hearing each individual ‘s prayer. Second, we are told that before we can pray we must have “clean hands,” and we are exhorted to examine our ways and arrive in a contrite manner for prayer. Thirdly, Solomon discusses what should happen when the nation is defeated in battle. Even if we only show up to Temple in time of need, Solomon asks God to accept such prayers without negative judgments.
Fourth, when there was no rain, it was assumed in ancient times that the people were hardened, had gone astray and were not following Mitzvot. Solomon begs God to listen when the people say they have learned lessons and want to return to the path — “The good way that they shall walk.” God should not continue to punish the people, but rather show forgiveness by bringing the rain.
The fifth mode of prayer is that offered to people who are ill. Again Solomon entreats God to listen to each person’s heart, for “God knows the heart of all children of man.” The sixth request by King Solomon is for the stranger who is not an Israelite, but when comes to beseech God should also be heard, “..so that all the people of the earth may know God’s name.
Lastly, the Temple should always be our focal point, even if we are exiled or have moved far away. Solomon reminds God to listen to the people wherever they are for the sake of the unity and for the future generations.
For me, studying Solomon’s prayer was a profoundly touching experience, and I am reminded about the importance of prayer in each of our lives. The work we do as clergy and chaplains, bringing moments of holiness, silence, connection and awareness of God to our people, is a gift. King Solomon asked that God be present and open to those moments. May we be open to them too. AMEN