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BlogElul Day 16: Pray

I find strong connections between prayer and the work I do in tech, and I don’t mean in the “Oh God please let my code run” or “Oh God please help me fix this outage” kind of way.

Right now, at this point in my Jewish journey, I have a fraught relationship with prayer. It’s not that I don’t WANT to pray, or can’t find time to pray, or don’t like what the prayers are saying – all valid issues that many people have, but these complaints are not mine.

No, my problem is that I don’t like the way that I pray, my facility with prayer, and I find my progress to be maddeningly slow.

Because, you see, Hebrew is just not coming easily to me. And it’s pissing me off to no end. And trying to pray when you’re pissed off about praying is… problematic, to say the least.

In my community, I am very open about this. I talk about it. A lot. Because generally speaking, I’m good with languages. I am somewhat fluent in 3 (English, French, and ASL), and building up my competence in a fourth (Spanish). But after 10 years as an orthodox Jew – someone for whom prayer is a 3-times-a-day event, Hebrew continues to kick my ass.

When I mention this, one of the first offers of help is from people who point out that they have it on good authority that God does, in fact, speak English fairly well, and I could pray that way too. It’s perfectly valid.

I don’t buy it. Because if that were true, I could saunter up to the bima (pulpit) and lead the whole service in English and that would be fine. And it’s not. Now I recognize that private, personal prayer is intrinsically different than the public prayer led by one person on behalf of the entire congregation. But even so, it’s clear that prayer in Hebrew is superior to prayer in English, and I’m just not interested in training wheels when it comes to connecting with the Source of All.

So what is wrong with all of this, and why do I find that this ties into my (and by extension, our) technical lives?

First, what I am doing is classic gatekeeping. I am placing myself as the sole arbiter of what is and isn’t “valid” prayer.

Second, I’m setting up false comparisons because Spanish is not Hebrew in many significant ways and so I cannot and should not try to use one as a baseline for the other.

These are things that, were I or someone I know to do it in the tech field, I would shut down without hesitation. And yet I tolerate them here because in my mind I can justify the harsh self-assessment as somehow justified and fair.

THIS is what the month of Elul is about: looking for the sub-optimal patterns of behavior and patterns of belief that existing in our daily life – and having found them, plotting out the actual, actionable changes that will help us grow past them.

Whether we can get “there” in a day, or a month, or longer, is not the point.

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