In Karaism, prayer is a singular relationship between man and God. Though we have our Hazzans to lead us in song and our Hachams to provide us with wisdom of the ages, as Karaites we don't have an intermediary that stands between ourselves and our God. There are no men that we rely on that speak on our behalf, or sages that must interpret the words that the Lord has provided to us. That as expressed by our wealth of literature is done on an individual basis for no other man can know what's in your heart, or what you hear in your mind. Having been trained in the Rabbanite schools, I watched with mild amusement as the Rabbis and my fellow classmates did their daily prayers; the Modeh Anis and the Alenu Leshabeahs. Words on pages, often memorized without insight, spewed off as quickly as possible, without emotion, without concern. These were mechanical litanies, serving no other purpose but to fulfill a function and allowing people to get on with their day. Most, I doubt even took the time to comprehend the words they were saying, whether or not they even related to their own personal circumstances. What the Rabbis had written was the 'Fast Food' of the prayer industry and whether or not they actually nourished the soul, provided the energy to carry on, was immaterial. And most other religions have copied to the same degree, providing their 'customers' with 'fast service' prayers to meet the general reguirements with minimum effort. For the worshipper to individualize their own prayers, to make a direct connection with God, to empty their emotions and expose their inner self takes a tremendous effort, time and strength in their personal convictions. So they attend their services, read someone else's words from a book, and go home content that all will be fine with the world because they have done their duty! How sad that people must think of it as a duty and not the opportunity it truly is.
There is an old tale that has been passed down to me and it's one of my favourites. Some of you may have heard me tell it already, to others it will be a new revelation. But hopefully you will bear it with you and always remember it. The time was long ago and the place was Eastern Europe. It took place in an Orthodox Synagogue, where the custom of wearing one's faith outwardly through the donning of big hats and black cloaks, with side curls practically to the ground became the 'sign' of righteousness, often covering up the blackest of hearts. I doubt the story is true, but the fact is, it could have been, for it is a poignant reflection of how men behave. In this synagogue, on the Sabbath the people were gathered to recite their prayers and sing their songs. A stranger had come to the town the day before and he too wanted to attend the services though he had come from far away where they were a poorer community, lacking schools and where they had no synagogue but merely a gathering of men that met for prayer, relying on old familiar songs and stories that had been passed down through the generations by word of mouth. And the stranger was so moved by the sound of their singing, the sight of families huddled over their siddurs (prayer books) that he felt his soul uplifted by what he saw as the strength of their faith, that he was compelled to sing along though he knew not the words and since he had no schooling, he could not read from their books. He did the only thing he could do, he began to whistle, and the more the congregation raised their voices in order to mask his noises, the louder he became energized by the resonance of their joyous sounds. The congregation could not bear it any longer and they dragged the stranger from the synagogue and they beat him and hurled stones at him for they cursed him for his blasphemy. The man died from his injuries and the people were satisfied that they had dealt properly with this affront to God.
When the stranger's spirit awoke again, he found himself within the Shekinah and the voice and presence of God surrounded him and he felt himself both bathed and part of the eternal light. And the Lord said to him, "You I love, and of all the voices raised, only your whistling reached my presence. For what you gave me was your devotion and adoration, expressed from your heart and it drowned out all the superfluous words of those insignificant others. They will not find their way to the Shekinah for theirs is but a cocophony of noise with hollow verse and little meaning and they bear evil within their hearts and they have forgotten that once they were strangers too!"
Little has changed since I was first told that story. Examine your hearts, choose your own words, make your own covenant with God, for that is the Karaite way.
A Prayer of the Kahana
Lord of the Universe,
My God is YAH,
Hear this the prayer of your humble servant.
Son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
Son of Aaron and son of Zadok.
Let me walk in your footsteps,
Guide me in the path of righteousness,
See that I stray neither right nor left,
But remain true to the course,
That you set for my fathers.
Help me find my way, O Lord,
Take me by the hand so I do not falter,
Stand me before the Shekinah in all its majestic glory,
Heal my wounds,
So that I may serve another day.
The rod and the ephod have departed from me,
My hand is scarred and my chest is branded,
I have let slip away that which was never to be parted
And I need you to forgive my weaknesses,
For allowing these things to happen.
Praise to You in all Your glory,
You are the designer of my destiny,
Your will is manifest in all my choices,
My fate lies within your hands,
There is no other God but you Lord.