Earlier this week, I was jolted awake from a dead sleep at 1:10 a.m. by the piercing sound of my smoke detector. This was not the annoying beeping sound those detectors make when you burn the salmon on the cast iron skillet, no, this was the most terrifying, loud, screech that ensured that if something were wrong, I would wake up. This sound blasted through the apartment because the fire alarm in my section of the complex was ringing through the halls.
As I gathered some things to exit the apartment, I finally got my breath back, and my first thought was, “I hope everyone is okay, let everyone be okay.” I was undoubtedly holding some other feelings at that moment as well, but I was almost relieved that this was my first reaction, because I don’t believe it would have been my first thought a few months back. However, I had recently studied a teaching by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, also known as Reb Zalman, and a founder of the Renewal movement. He suggests that when we hear a siren, though he meant a car siren, rather than react in annoyance for the disruption, our first reaction should be to offer a prayer — to think about those who are driving the emergency vehicles, and to think about those who may be in need of extra help.
I learned the instinct to pray for the safety of others after reading a piece from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s The Book of Jewish Values: A Day by Day Guide to Ethical Living. Rabbi Telushkin offers further commentary, suggesting that when we frame our lives in prayer — when it becomes a habit for us to react to such situations with prayerful words rather than curses or utterances of annoyance — we are better for it.
Living a life infused with a prayer practice leads to a greater sense of purpose and meaning, just ask anyone with a prayer practice, I guarantee they will share these feelings! And if you have children, modeling this practice for them instills empathy and creates engaged, thoughtful, and caring adults.
If you’ve never tried a prayer practice like this, I urge you to give it a shot. Take one week, and when you begin to feel annoyed by something, like the sound of a siren that wakes you from your sleep, find a way to reframe the situation, and turn the situation into a prayerful moment. Once you’ve completed your first week, I bet you won’t go back to the other way of thinking.
Bivracha, With Blessing,
P.S. Thankfully, that early morning fire alarm was a false alarm and no one was hurt or their property damaged.