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    Does God need it?

    Praying on Rosh HaShanah, by Bernard Picart, c. 1733

    Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur comprise so many prayers, so much restatement of sacrifices, so much theology.

    The long services fill two whole prayer books. They occupy hours of our time. They make us alternately sit, stand, kneel and beat our breasts.

    Those who don’t believe in acts of worship dismiss it all as mumbo-jumbo and wonder why they’ve come.

    Those with a more positive view have to admit it’s all rather a pain – to use the liturgy’s own vocabulary, an exercise in self-affliction.

    Question: Why bother? Does God really need it all?

    Answer: A God who is – by definition – eternal and perfect cannot possibly be short of anything. Our prayer, praise and piety don’t make Him any more eternal, any more perfect, any more powerful.

    Our talk of holiness doesn’t do anything for Him, but it does something for us – it raises our sights.

    God doesn’t need our prayers, but He needs to know that we take our lives seriously. He doesn’t need our praise, but He needs to know that we acknowledge that it is He that makes the ultimate decisions.

    He doesn’t need our sacrifices, but He needs to know that we are ready to dedicate something to His service.

    He doesn’t need our kneeling, but He needs to know that we are capable of humility. And so much depends on our attitudes to other people. He forgives us if we forgive others. He loves us if we love others. He hears our voice if we listen to others.

    Why do we have to spend so long in the synagogue?

    It’s better there than in the commercial cut-throat contexts where we constantly seek to get an advantage over others, better than in proceedings that are coarse, vulgar, slimy or salacious.

    The language the synagogue speaks is clean, pure, holy, kindly, compassionate, moral, modest and elevated.

    The atmosphere of the synagogue is a good place to be.

    See you in shule!

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