Tisha be-Av Minha ended, and we were all on our way out the door--and then the rabbi said, "Anyone want to stick around for awhile and study?" Still two hours before the fast ended--better to spend it in the synagogue than at home, hungry and tempted. I wasn't among the fasters this year, but decided to stay just the same.
Turns out I was very familiar with the text he chose, a line in the haftarah I had just chanted. (For the eighth Tisha be-Av minha in a row! It's the first one I ever learned. Time flies.) It's from the end of the usual fast day afternoon haftarah (Isaiah 55:6-56:8):
56:7: Then will I bring them to My holy mountain and I will make them joyful in the house where men pray to me, their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be favorably accepted upon My altar for My house shall be acclaimed as a house of prayer for all people.
Vahavi'otim el-har kodeshi vesimachtim beveyt tfilati oloteyhem vezivcheyhem leratson al-mizbechi ki veyti beyt-tfilah yikare lechol-ha'amim.
The words he focused on were "beveit tfilati," here translated as "the house where men pray to me"--but "tfilati," "my prayer," could also be read as "the praying that is mine"--the praying I do. Could this be, wondered commentators--does God pray? What would God pray about? Why? The rabbi read a passage from the Talmud about God apparently learning how to pray from a simple shopkeeper. Did we think it was possible, he asked?
Big silence in the room at first. On the one hand, we strive to envision God as less literal and more spiritual than the bearded old guy in the sky. But we also want to be able to pray to a God who's like a parent or friend, to whom we can cry and expect a response. How to reconcile the two?
For me (I said when I finally got the nerve to raise my hand) the answer is self-evident. If we can pray, then God must be able to, as well--for how could we do something that God can't? If God chooses to pray (that, I have no idea), then I think God prays that we humans will choose to pray. I believe God yearns for the partnership just as we do. I don't really know what that means--I don't know what "God" means--but I believe it just the same, and feel it in my heart and bones.