We Must Pray in a Room with Windows

Posted on June 18, 2021 by Rabbi Arnie S. Gluck

In Talmud Berachot 34a, Rabbi Yochanan teaches that one may pray only in a room that has windows. His prooftext is from the book of Daniel, where we learn that while he was in exile in Babylonia Daniel prayed in a space that had a window facing Jerusalem. The message of this text is twofold. First, it teaches us that our prayers should always be outwardly focused, reaching out into the world, aware of what is happening around us and concerned with it. Second, we are to emulate Daniel, who was aspirational in his supplications.

Prayer is both personal and communal. We each have our individual needs and yearnings that must be expressed for our prayers to be genuine offerings of our hearts. At the same time, our prayers must not be all about us. There is a world out there that needs our attention and our intention to mend its brokenness.

For Daniel in exile, facing Jerusalem was an expression of longing. He could not see the Holy City, but he could imagine it. Turning his heart and his prayers in that direction was an expression of hope that strengthened and sustained him. It reminded him who he was and what he stood for.

Our beloved sanctuary at Temple Beth-El is a room with many windows. This is by design. Some face east, directing our hearts and minds to Zion. Others face north and south to focus our attention on the wider world that demands our concern, our prayers for justice, peace, and healing, and our commitment to engage in acts of tikkun, of repair.

This Shabbat coincides with Juneteenth, long celebrated and newly designated as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. We continue, as well, to mark Pride Month, celebrating the freedom of LGBTQ+ people to be and to love as they are and wish to be. These are important foci for our prayers as we gaze through our windows, both real and metaphorical. May they be for us portals to the world for which our hearts yearn — a world where every person is free to be who they are and share in the abundance of God’s gifts of creation.

As we gather for prayer this erev Shabbat, some of us will be present in our sanctuary, others will be joining us by looking through the window of a computer. But all of us should be extending our gaze to the world that God created and to the world that God intends for us — a world of wholeness and perfection, a yom she-kulo Shabbat, the ultimate Sabbath of the messianic time. V’chein y’hi ratzon — so may it be, speedily and in our day!

Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Arnie Gluck