Shemini Atzeret
For the week of October 2, 1999 / 22 Tishri 5760
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17; Bemidbar / Numbers 29:35-3
Haftarah: I Kings 8:54-66

Do You Kneel?

When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven (1 Kings 8:54).

Have you ever knelt before God? My mother taught me not to. She told me that her father told her that Jews knelt before no one, not even God. I have learned since then that isn't really true. Besides references to this practice in the Tanach (Old Testament) (Psalms 95:6, 2 Chronicles 6:13), there is a part of the Yom Kippur service where the Cantor kneels in prayer before God.

Still, getting on one's knees is not common Jewish practice. The normal posture for prayer in Judaism is standing. This is in contrast to other religious groups, including Muslims and Catholics where kneeling in prayer is normal and encouraged. And so even though my grandfather was not technically correct, he certainly expressed a well-established sentiment - Jews don't kneel.

But Solomon kneeled. He knelt in prayer when he cried out to God at the dedication of the Temple.

Solomon was expressing two things when he knelt before God in prayer: Humility and vulnerability.

When we get on our knees before someone, we lower ourselves and raise up the other. We are expressing that the other person, at least at that moment, is more important than we are. We give them a place of superiority.

When Solomon knelt before God, he lowered himself. He expressed that God was the higher authority in his life. Even though Solomon was king of Israel, God was the greater king.

By kneeling we make ourselves vulnerable. When we stand we are ready to defend ourselves or run away. But when we are on our knees we are virtually helpless. We are at the mercy of the other person. They can do to us whatever they wish.

Solomon became vulnerable before God. He knew that it was God's help that he and his people needed.

Maybe you kneel, maybe you don't. But what is in your heart? Who is God to you? Do you stand above him, trying to run your life as if there is no higher authority than you? Or do you give him his rightful place, allowing his will to be supreme?

Do you aggressively run your life yourself, constantly fighting to get your own way no matter what? Or are you willing to accept your vulnerability and recognize your need of God's mercy and help, which he lovingly and freely gives to those who humble themselves before him?

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