Today we’re learning Mishnah Brachot 4:6:

“If one was sitting in a boat, or in a wagon, or on a raft, [when one prays], one should focus one’s heart toward the Holy of Holies.”

Some background: When one prayes the Shmoneh Esrei (the Amidah, one of, or perhaps the, central component(s) of Jewish liturgy), one should pray physically facing the Holy of Holies. If one is outside of Jerusalem, one should pray facing Jerusalem. That’s why Jews in the Western world always pray facing East.

The thing that immeditately came to mind when I read this was the famous story told by the Dalai Lama in Simon Wiesenthal’s excellent book, The Sunflower. The Dalai Lama recalls, “A few years back, a Tibetian monk who had served about eighteen years in a Chinese prison in Tibet came to see me after his escape to India. I knew him from my days in Tibet and remember last seeing him in 1959. During the course of that meeting I had asked him what he felt was the biggest threat or danger when he was in prison. I was amazed by his answer…. He said that what he most feard was losing his compassion for the Chinese.”

We don’t always have control over our external circumstances. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are far from ideal, and this may hamper us from doing what we would do if we got to pick. However, we always have control over our minds, and our hearts. We can choose to allow our circumstances to prevent us from enacting our highest self and service to the Divine–or we can choose to find ways to preserve that Divine service and our own integrity internally… even if it’s a struggle because we are out on a metaphorical raft, and can’t stand up or don’t even know which way Jerusalem might be. Even adrift, we can still incline our hearts to the Holy of Holies. The heart has a better and more powerful compass than that which can be found on any ship.

May Yoel Natan ben Sara Miriam’s recovery be quick and complete.

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