“This uncertainty is killing me.
And it’s the chase that keeps
my feet on the ground.”
— from the song, “Uncertainty”
by The Wellspring
The conclusion to one of the most personal of the Amidah’s blessings reads, “Baruch atah Hashem, shomea tefilla” — “Blessed are You, God, who hears prayers.” Whether or not we believe, literally, that God hears our prayers, I want to remind myself that God hears me, God hears us. My small voice can cut through the cacophony of the world’s constant hum and be heard in an intimate way.
What is more “uncertain” than the existence of God? Being in a loving relationship with an invisible partner is so hard and frustrating. When Moses first encounters God at the burning bush, he asks who he should say has sent him. God’s answer is perfectly mystical and cryptic and simple: “I will be what I will be.” As Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend asks in “Ya Hey,” “Who could ever live that way?” We need more than an esoteric, vague response!
This uncertainty becomes destructive when it is my reason for not praying. Though I hope God hears my voice, I don’t want to put my prayers out if they may not be heard. I want my partner known, invested, and present. When I think of my prayers falling upon deaf ears — or worse, upon no ears — it shakes my very foundation of faith and love to the core. — Dov Rosenblatt
I struggle with belief in a personal God who responds to supplications, and with belief in God at all. And I struggle to pray when, in other settings, speaking aloud, ostensibly to myself, would brand me as crazy. And yet, I pray — not always, but often. Sometimes, it’s but one or two prayers; other times, the full liturgy. I don’t believe that God has any need of my prayers, but they serve as a vehicle to teach me humility and perspective, to add rhythm and ritual to my day.
Prayer is usually easier for me when I’m surrounded by people, when I feel the full weight of community. We are praying. A collective that stretches back millennia is speaking b’kol echad, in one voice, reliving our history and asking for our basic human needs to be fulfilled. Mostly, I think, prayer is an integral practice and a reminder of what it means to be human — full of failings, working in concert with other people, descendants of a collective past, and capable of striving for something more. — Chelsea Garbell
Kiddushim, my bat mitzvah portion, includes a verse that commands us to be holy: “For I, the Lord your God, am Holy.” So many commandments tell us concrete actions to do — here, we are told how to be. What does it meant to be holy?
As a preadolescent on the brink of becoming bat mitzvah, an adult, I felt that change was as inevitable as it was unknowable. As Dov Rosenblatt quotes from the song, “This uncertainty [was] killing me.”
When I encountered the verse in which God quotes from the song, “I will be what I will be,” I felt profound relief. God is not static, and predicting what changes lay ahead seemed less important than embracing them. Perhaps holiness lay in this unpredictable unfolding.
Twelve years later, I came out as a transgender man. Again, I turned to this passage. Asserting “I will be what I will be” is an act of defiance toward gender oppression. It acknowledges the holiness inherent in becoming what we are compelled to become — ourselves. — Toby Kramer
One night, when my mom came into my room to put me to bed, I said, “I have something to tell you. Sometimes I talk to God out loud. Does God hear me, mom? Or am I just talking to air?” I was 10 years old and self-conscious, so I added, “Don’t tell anyone in my class that I asked, ’cause they’ll be like, ‘you talk to air?’”
I still talk to air. Or God. I don’t know. I share Dov Rosenblatt’s sense of doubt, but I don’t share his discomfort with it. In fact, I have an aversion to certainty. Religious certainty, in my life, has meant violence and hatred. The same people who “know” God’s will take it upon themselves to impose that will on everyone else.
The God I engage in relationship gave me the ability to seek and interpret amid great mystery. And the mystery itself is what makes room for wonder, engagement, and growth — and brings about those little sparks of holiness that catch my heart. — Hallel Abramowitz-Silvermanemail print