Previous Chapter


Wanting to Want

"When I looked around me, I saw people pouring their hearts. It made me feel as if I didnít have one, or that if I did, it was as hard as a stone... Didnít I want to pray at all?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE TORAH TALKS ABOUT HOW, in the end of days, God "will circumcise the hearts of the nation." (Deuteronomy, 10:16.) It is as if to say that towards the end of Jewish history, something will encase the hearts of the people that will require removal. Perhaps it is this "shell" that prevents so many people from embracing Torah Judaism, though it is quite logical to do so. (See The Y Factor, also by Mercava Productions.)

Perhaps it is this outer "shell", which is responsible for spiritual desensitization, that is also the reason for oneís initial inability to pray.

It was my first real Rosh Hashanah service. Normally I dreaded this time of year... so many hours in synagogue with nothing to do and no where to go. This year, however, I was going to be the one praying, and I looked forward to a refreshing experience. What I experienced instead was enough frustration to make we walk out of services. The people around me were either crying or about to cry. I was just grappling with the words. And when I tried to feel something, all I felt was a stone heart. What was their secret? What was I lacking? I just walked out, sat down on some stairs, and stared out into space.
The feeling is very disturbing, and it can make one feel inadequate. Some people, even those who have already been praying for decades, might just shut down. Theyíll pray just what they have to, and not worry about what they feel. Evaluating their prayer experience may reveal the painful truth that they just donít want to pray.

But though they may not want to pray, theyíre there because they want to want to pray:

I grabbed my head and, looking up into the sky, I said something that surprised me. I said, "Dear God, Iím having difficulty with all of this. But, though I may not want to pray yet, I do know that I want to want to pray." All of a sudden, I felt calm once again. I went back in and joined the service. I was at peace with myself...
When we want ice-cream, usually we feel it and are driven to act to have some. However, when we want good grades in school, we donít always act accordingly. Whatís the difference? The difference has to do with reaching a level of want that is matched also by "feeling".

Since ice cream brings immediate benefit, one we whole-heartedly enjoy, we are unified in our desire to have some. However, when it comes to something where the benefit is not immediate, or guaranteed, then "feeling" may not go along with "want". The result is an intellectual effort that lacks emotional support, like in the case of prayer for some.

But thatís okay. Something that serves no purpose will eventually lose intellectual support as well as emotional support. But something that has intellectual backing will eventually gain emotional support as time goes on and the action is repeated.

Imagine two friends who do everything together. One day, one of the friends decides he wants to go to the library on Sundays and read. The other friend, however, did not come to the same conclusion. However, since they are friends that do everything together, the latter accompanies the other to the library anyhow.

After about three weeks of "just hanging out" at the library, Friend Two turns to Friend One and asks, "Do you actually enjoy this?" And without even so much as a pause, Friend One answers, "Tremendously."

Friend Two, taken aback, re-evaluates what it is that Friend One enjoys so much. Have they at last grown in different directions from one another? The thought is too much to bear, so, giving Friend One the benefit of the doubt, Friend Two asks, "Well, what is it that you enjoy so much?"

"I thought youíd never ask," Friend One chides, and goes on to explain how reading books can be so fulfilling. Itís only a matter of weeks before Friend Two has his own library card, and is honking to get Friend One into the car so they can get to the library already!

Thatís the way it is with feeling and want. Want understands whatís good in life, and that sometimes, the benefits of good take time to realize. But, says want, "Theyíre worth it!"

Feeling, on the other hand, says, "Does it taste like chocolate ice-cream?"


"Is it as cozy as a warm bed on a cold, January morning?"

"Not really."

"Then what good is it!" exclaims feeling in frustration.

"It makes us grow. It allows us to develop our self, and to feel more real, more alive."

"Why would you want that?" feeling questions. "Whatís in it for you?"

"Iím glad you asked," answers a happy want. "Allow me to explain..."

And its not too long before feeling is showing up in synagogue first, and pushing want to go further with the prayer experience.

The starting point always is knowing that, even if you donít feel like praying, know that you want to pray, otherwise you wouldnít be there and you wouldnít be trying to. Keep calm. Keep cool. Eventually, if you stick it out, feeling is going to ask you, whatís in it for you, and if you have the right answer, heíll jump right in too.


The fact that we donít feel like praying doesnít mean we donít want to pray. Knowing this allows a person to be more relaxed when trying to stimulate some emotional response and sincerity when praying. Furthermore, in order to feel like praying, one has to become fully aware of the benefits of doing so, the immediate ones and the long term benefits as well.

© by Mercava Productions

Next Chapter
Table of Contents
Rabbi Winston's main page
Back to Neveh Homepage

The webspace for the Neveh Zion site has been generously donated by

send your comments to