Tefillah Tuesday: To All Who Call in Truth

Continuing with the acrostic Ashrei, Psalm 145, today let us focus on v. 18:
“קרוב י’הוה לכל קוראיו לכל אשר יקראהו באמת.“
“The Lord is close to all who call upon Him, to all who call in truth.”
For a worshipper reciting Ashrei, this verse plays a sly or ironic trick. Its first clause promises that God responds to everyone who calls, apparently without exception. Hashem doesn’t screen calls, it seems. “Great,” says the worshipper, “this prayer thing is going to work!”
But the second clause complicates the picture. Now it emerges that the promise of God’s nearness depends on how the person calls, which must be באמת in “truth.” To understand this verse, treat b’emet as an adverb, not a noun. It is not only that you speak true statements and avoid lies. Rather, God responds only to those who call truly or sincerely.
There are numerous ways to pray. Sometimes we quote Scripture respectfully, dutifully fulfill obligations or sing along with congregation. These are not bad prayers, and there is no reason to feel ashamed of davening in these ways.
But to sense God’s nearness, it seems to me, one needs to call out באמת, sincerely and truly, from a deep part of yourself. Praying באמת is not just reciting liturgy. It is a passionate inner reflection in which – through the liturgy – you lay bare your desperation, your sorrow, your shortcomings, your hopes, your joys, and your audacious aspirations. Standing before Heaven, there is no faking it. The more you try to conceal yourself, the less you expose your heart to God’s healing light. Yes, Hashem responds to our prayers, but only when you tell the truth truly.
The German-Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig [1886-1929] is our great post-modern saint, someone who found his way from near apostasy, non-observance and minimal Jewish literacy to great teshuva and deep learning, meaning and mitzvah without fundamentalism. Rosenzweig loves the Talmud’s phrase that “God’s seal is truth,” which he takes to mean God possesses Truth, with a capital T, within His essence. We mortals, living in the world, cannot possess what is beyond the world, but can respond to God with sincerity and authenticity.
Rosenzweig is a tough writer, so I will give you a sample of his opaque words, and a clarifying alternative. Here is FR himself: “To Truth, which is God’s seal, corresponds the Truly, which is Man’s seal … Our truly, our yes & amen … is the beating heart of eternal truth” [Star of Redemption, trans. Galli, 418, 414]. And here the wonderful paraphrase of Jacob Agus: “Truth is a noun only to God; to man it is best known as an adverb, truly, a measure of our inner faithfulness” [Modern Philosophies of Judaism, 191].
That’s what I think of when I davven the verse קרוב י’הוה לכל קוראיו לכל אשר יקראהו באמת “God is near to all who call in truth.” I possess no absolute truth; that belongs only to God. But I can call truly, keeping faith with the truth of my life and what I can glimpse, partially of the truth beyond.