Ellen DeGeneres used to do a bit about how, with so many people praying all the time, God’s answering machine must be really full. I thought about this when Tal, a fifth-grade student asked the big question, “How can God hear out prayers if we are all praying at the same time?” This is a standing-on-one-foot type of moment, like when Hillel was asked to stand on one foot and explain the entire Torah. The kind of moment when a teacher should put on the brakes and realize that whatever you are teaching, no matter how important you think it is, it is not nearly as important as this very question.
Students’ responses included:
God can’t hear them all at the same time.
I picture God with tons of ears.
Maybe God chooses what God wants to hear.
I also asked the students what it would mean if God didn’t hear our prayers. Jake, a bright student with a mound of curls on his head, responded that it would be fine, because if we are praying and only hearing ourselves, at least that is still doing good.
As we went to our tefillah, our prayer service, I asked the students to consider the following idea when we sing Oseh Shalom, a prayer for peace. “What if the act of praying for peace brought peace to us in that very moment?”
We didn’t have a follow-up afterwards, but they sure sang beautifully this Shabbat.