A Few Thoughts on Prayer and Sincerity: Elokai Neshama
“My G-d, the soul you placed within me is pure.”
– from the morning prayers
Too often, I am unable to say the beginning of this prayer “as is.” Was the original soul that G-d placed within me pure when I was born? Yes, as far as I know, I can receive this as a truth.
Is my soul renewed every morning, having spent some time in the upper realms to get a recharge, before being placed back within me before I wake up? No doubt, that my soul is renewed each and every morning, as implied elsewhere, “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23).
Yet, I know myself too well; my conscience is not necessarily renewed to its pristine quality every morning. And, if yesterday’s taint upon the soul is still present in my mind, my soul does not “feel” pure when I awake to the “rise and shine” of the day.
For some time, I have been disconcerted by the apparent incongruity of how I feel, as compared to the literal text; so, I explored various ways to understand this concept of the soul’s purity being restored. One finding is that, only a certain part of the soul is referred to in the prayer; that part is “pure.”
I also seem to recall learning of tzaddikim, who were unable to say certain prayers in sincerity. As far as I can recall, they modified those particular prayers a little bit, for themselves, in the moment, in order to be heartfelt and true to their words. Yet, this is not to be understood as a pretext to actually changing the prayers of chazal (the sages).
Yet, there does appear to be a pretext to solving my own troublesome dilemma, by altering a prayer somewhat, at least, in the moment, to be faithful and true to one’s own words. As such, I usually say, “My G-d, may the soul you placed within me be pure.” I have turned a statement into a request.
Additionally, the prayers may be personalized, to some extent, while reciting them: that is the nature of personal kavannos, best explained as thoughts about the prayers while reciting them. (There are also specially designed kavannos to recall while reciting certain prayers).