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prayer pings #3

Our hearts are not so pure. We kinda know that. Daily thoughts and experiences reinforce this fact. We ask God to purify our hearts, but the very frequency with which we make this request (three times each Shabbat) reflects the uphill nature of that battle. When King David (in the Psalm in which he acknowledges having sinned with Bat Sheva) asks that God create a pure heart for him, the unquestionable sincerity of his request is not to be confused with its feasibility. It's no accident that when, in the daily Amidah, we ask God to forgive our sins, we strike our hearts.

The opening words of אלהי נשמה (Artscroll, p.18) assert however, that there is something about us, some part of our being, that is in fact pure. "My God, the נשמה (soul) You've placed within me is pure. And in this daily morning blessing, we then express deepest gratitude for this facet of our being. But what part of us is it? How and when do we feel stirrings of this "pureנשמה "?

The answer- though that sounds like way too definitive a word in this context - undoubtedly emerges from what we mean by the word "pure". I'd suggest that what we mean is "untainted" - a quality that our desiring hearts can never really attain. The pure נשמה is the spirit that God blew into our nostrils which isn't cynical, isn't playing chess with the world, doesn't ask "what's in this for me?" It's the spirit that says "הנני" when we hear the moral calling, that recognizes the sacredness of the target without considering the self-sacrifice it will take to reach it, that doesn't reflexively question the motives of all the others in the story. "... You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me."

Growing up, I remember that the highest praise that could be applied to someone was that he or she was a "gutteh neshama", a good soul. A pure soul. How indispensable is the daily bracha, in which we acknowledge the "gutteh neshamah" inside ourselves.


--Rav Yosef

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780