David was sitting with his grandmother Miriam in the backyard eating cookies when he suddenly asked her. Where do all the prayers go? I mean, I know you say prayers to God but how do they find their way to God?
David always asked lots of questions. And his grandmother always tried to answer them. So she just smiled and said, It depends on which prayer you say David. When you say a blessing for the food you eat, the blessing doesn’t go anywhere; it just stays with you in your mind and makes you feel grateful and fortunate. When you sing a Hebrew song from the Bible, it goes to your heart and makes you feel joyful and Jewish. And when you say a prayer like the Sh’ma together with the congregation, it is transported to God by Sandalphon. That is what my grandmother told me.
What is Sandalphon? asked David. Is it like e-mail?
I am not sure what Sandalphon is, said grandmother Miriam, My grandmother told me it is a very tall angel with wheels. What is important about Sandalphon is that he takes all the prayers that are said from the heart, in each congregation throughout the whole world, weaves them together into a crown, and places the crown on God’s head, which means in God’s mind. The crown of prayers is like a verbal rainbow, with each word acting as a sparkling drop. The light and the beauty are reflected back into the heart of people who are praying in the congregation. If they sing their prayers; the reflection is doubled.
But why does God need a crown? asked David.
A crown of prayers is not like a crown of gold, answered grandma Miriam. It is more like when grandpa used to tell you that he loved you. He told you that he loved you every time he saw you, although you already knew that he loved you. Now that he is gone you can’t hear him say it with your ears, but you can hear him say it with your heart and in your mind.
If Sandalphon has wheels maybe he is like an escalator, said David.
It isn’t important what you imagine he looks, said grandma Miriam, What is important is that our prayers make God holy, just as our doing God’s commandments makes us holy. You can’t be a husband without a wife and you can’t be a wife without a husband. In the same way we need God’s love; God needs our love. That is why the prayers are woven into a crown. It is like putting a wedding ring on the finger of the person you love. The kind of ring is not important.
David thought for several minutes about everything grandma Miriam had said. Then he asked his last question. Where did all the cookies go?
After 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City Calif. Allen Maller retired in 2006. He is the editor of a series of High Holy Days prayer books; the author of a book on Jewish mysticism, “God, Sex and Kabbalah”; and the husband since 1966 of Judy Coopersmith. Visit his website at http://www.rabbimaller.com for more information.