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Praying for Tickets

Thursday, 6 October, 2022 - 1:01 pm

I hope everyone had a meaningful Yom Kippur. This is the really the most wonderful time of the year. We float from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, to Sukkot, to Simchat Torah. Each holiday gives us a boost in another area of our Jewish experience and our relationship with Hashem.

I recently had an occasion to supervise morning prayers for the 3-4 grades at Slater Torah Academy. These kids are great. They are proficient in their reading and very enthusiastic about “davening.” They sing most of the prayers out loud together. They are still 8 or 9 years old, so as an incentive to keep them focused on the prayers, the teacher walks around and gives raffle tickets to the children that are participating nicely. Being kids, some of them begin to daydream or lose focus. When they see the teacher approaching with the tickets, their enthusiasm returns.  

As I observed this, my initial thought was a sad one. Why do they need tickets to do what they know is important. But then I reflected further and realized that we adults are not much better. We also pray with more enthusiasm when there is a “prize” on the line. While it may not be a raffle ticket, are we not more focused when a loved one is sick, or we have a pressing financial issue? Don’t we pray with more intensity during the High Holidays knowing that our futures are being determined? But that thought was not very comforting. It just means that we adults are as capricious as kids in our commitment to Hashem.

But then I recalled a beautiful Chasidic interpretation of a Talmudic teaching. “One should always engage in the service of Hashem even if not for the “sake of heaven,” for as a result of serving with ulterior motives, we can come to serve altruistically.” The Hebrew term connoting “as a result of” is “Mitoch.” An alternative application of “Mitoch” is “within.” In that sense the Talmud is telling us that deep within our service for “raffle tickets” lies our latent commitment to altruistic service of Hashem.

This is a liberating and empowering idea. Even when we find ourselves doing things out of personal ulterior motives, this does not negate the value of what we have done. Certainly, we must seek to bring the altruism from a latent state to a revealed state. But until that happens, our service is not worthless in Hashem’s eyes, not should it be from our own perspective.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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