Since I was in rabbinic school, I have been spending a fair amount of my spiritual life praying alone. It's always a dilemma--enormously satisfying while at the same time in direct contradiction of the rabbinic mandate--"don't remove yourself from the community."
The Rabbis of early Judaism created a system of worship whose fundamental basis was the minyan--the group of a ten person minimum that would constitute their definition of community. Without a minyan, a community could not exist. Without community, one could not access God and offer up prayer as a sacrifice on the altar of God's existence. But if one was at home intellectually in liberal Judaism but not necessarily at home spiritually in liberal Judaism--what was one to do?
In rabbinic school I developed the habit of praying alone at home, early in the morning before school, and then, joining the community at school. That's where my "minyan" was, yet my deeper and more formative spiritual heights were climbed in the singular pursuit of God's reality when alone--in my living room, in a corner of the Park, on a beach. Surrounded by God when alone; lonely when surrounded by others. What a spiritual paradox.
In this week's Torah portion, Isaac, soon after being nearly sacrificed by his father, is next seen meditating alone in a field when he meets his future wife, Rebecca. He's handsome, pained and poetic. She is beautiful, strong and savvy. She sees him alone, "meditating in the field." The Hebrew suggests "conversing" with God and the Rabbis of the commentary are quick to point out that he was praying the Afternoon Mincha service.
Maybe. At the very least, he was alone because he found peace there from the traumas of his existence. He found a singular narrative of aloneness that spoke to his being and though drawn, inexorably, to a woman who would be charged with keeping him in the Covenant, he found his God not in the communal but in the singular relation with the Source of Life.
Isaac is that for us--the singular, the insistent, the alone. In dialogue with the communal, the insistent, the group. It's the classic dilemma of the Jewish condition--finding the self in the group and negotiating the irrepressible ways in which the group defines the individual self.
Put it another way: If you are a Jew--why?
Is it God's call to you as an individual, alone in a field?
Or is that call of the covenant, the call of history, pulling you back from your aloneness, into covenantal relation with narrative, with people, with language, with land?
Somewhere you stand.