messages from the divine
October 4, 2016 5:46 AM   Subscribe

Many Christians experience some kind of communication in response to prayer -- ranging from a general sense of guidance or comfort to specific messages to visions, dreams, and prophecies. In Jewish communities of all kinds, how common are similar experiences of communication or guidance, and how are they talked about and interpreted?

Is this part of the discourse in any Jewish communities? Like, do people tend to talk about this type of experience -- is it assumed to be an important part of religious life the way it is in many Christian worship communities? Are there specific communities where this is or is not the case? Where these experiences are common, is there anything that makes their descriptions and interpretations stand out from the Christian way of interpreting the same experiences?

I want to make this as broad as possible -- I'm interested in hearing about this kind of thing in communities of all kinds, both historical and modern.
posted by vogon_poet to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up in a "yeshivish" Orthodox Jewish community on the East Coast of the US in the 90s and that really didn't seem to be part of the prayer experience or culture in the way it seems to be in some Christian communities. Maybe comfort but not stuff beyond that. There are stories about people from past generations having had visions, miraculous things happening, etc, but often there is an idea thrown about that this was limited to people on a higher spiritual plane, and that as the generations go forward we are all collectively on a lower spiritual plane.

I remember some story about a kid praying for a bicycle, not getting a bicycle, and then saying "well, I did get an answer, God said no." So basically--the "answer" is what happens afterwards, and the idea is that we can't understand God's reasoning at all. (I heard the analogy of us being on the knotty, tangled underside of a tapestry, with the "right side" facing God.)

There's a lot of praying for people (often saying Psalms) when they are sick. If they die I think the idea is often "well, this helped them go more smoothly" or "it will help their soul after death."

Guidance (about almost anything in life) was generally something you got from a/your rabbi/rav, not from prayer. There was a big "ask for advice from your rav" culture.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:23 AM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a Reform Jewish community. I have never heard anyone in that community talk about something like that.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:31 AM on October 4, 2016

I can't communicate this in a way that's anything more than anecdote, but over the last year I have spent a lot of time with Orthodox Jewish women who frequently speak of getting "HP moments." There's a Hebrew term (which I forget) which HP stands for, but in English they also call it a "Higher-Power moment." Meaning, a moment when you viscerally experience God's connection to your life, to your specific circumstances, to something you've prayed about/for, etc. These women are affiliated with Aish, if that makes a difference.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:59 AM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agreed. In reform communities you mostly get the guidance or advice from your rabbi or from a number of rabbis if something is really difficult.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 AM on October 4, 2016

I don't think an interventionist God who gives specific messages or makes specific things that are prayed for happen is a Jewish concept; this would be in conflict with the central Jewish ideas of personal responsibility and bechira chofshi (free will) that God has bestowed upon man. Indeed, the reason observant Jews were able to cling to their faith during and after the Holocaust is precisely because the question "How could God let this happen?" is not one that most Jews would ask -- evil PEOPLE let it happen, not God. And undoubtedly many prayers of that time were that people might find the strength to defeat such evil.

I would say that Jewish prayer is geared towards adoration of the Divine One, who is generally experienced as a mystical presence in the universe. A good example is the Mourner's Kaddish, which does not pray for the souls of the deceased or anything of that sort, nor does it even mention death at all. It is instead filled with adoration: "Blessed, exalted, extolled, and glorified be the name of the Holy One, though He is beyond any words of praise that we can utter..." Any observant Jew will attest that recitation of such words does indeed give comfort to the bereaved, and a sense of God's enduring presence.
posted by RRgal at 7:47 AM on October 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't remember the exact details anymore, but in my high school we had a LOT of discussions about the intersection of free will and God controlling the universe, faith in God vs. effort/doing your part, etc. The discussions were long and rambling because there was no tidy answer.

Also, you might find the phrase "lo bashamayim hi" (it is not in heaven) and the related story about the oven of interest.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:03 AM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's a quick take, but my quick answer is that in general, and I'm sure there are exceptions, Judaism doesn't really personalize ones relationship with God the same way. God's relevance to your life is deeply personal but it's not as mutual as it seems to be in Christianity. The burning bush happens, but it's really...unusual in its character, not only in that the bush was not consumed.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:17 AM on October 4, 2016

You might enjoy the Coen Brother's film, "A Serious Man", which treats this topic really wonderfully throughout the film.
posted by effluvia at 11:26 AM on October 4, 2016

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