Oct. 13, 2020

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer on Genesis 15:1-8 – “Prayer: An Invitation to Express Doubts”

Mark is delighted to welcome the President and CEO of the Hadar Institute, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, to today’s episode. In addition to his work with this great institution of adult jewish learning in the world, Elie has also been named one of the top fifty Jewish leaders by The Forward, and one of Newsweek's top fifty rabbis. When asked to guest on the podcast to discuss prayer, the topic of his upcoming book, Elie chose Genesis 15:1-8 to discuss with Mark.

He begins the conversation by summarizing the passage, and sharing why it is meaningful for him. He and Mark then explore the complexities of Abraham’s relationship with God, the promises that God made to Abraham, and the lessons to be learned from the reference to stars in the passage as well as Abraham’s struggle with faith. Elie then explains what this passage has to do with prayer, offers his advice to those who, like Mark, are unable to connect to God through prayer, and reviews Judaism’s emphasis on the communal aspect of prayer. Elie concludes the episode by offering a glimpse into his upcoming book, as well as the lessons he has learned about mankind. As Mark notes, he always learns so much from his conversations with Elie, particularly about the multiple meanings that can come from the same text, and today is your opportunity to do the same during this fascinating and informative examination of this highly important biblical passage.

Episode Highlights:

  • Elie’s summary of the passage and why it is meaningful to him
  • The complexities of Abraham’s relationship with God in this passage
  • God’s promises to Abraham
  • Lessons to be learned from the reference to stars in the passage and from Abraham’s struggle with faith
  • What this passage has to do with prayer
  • Elie’s advice to those who can’t connect with God through prayer
  • Judaism’s emphasis on the communal aspect of prayer
  • Elie’s new book
  • The lessons he has learned about mankind


“It’s a different window into Abraham’s relationship with God that’s actually much more complex than blind faith.”

“It’s not that you’re just going to have one child, you’re going to have so many children, it’s going to be as numerous as the stars in the sky.”

“There can be many truths emanating from the same passage.”

“If you want to find your way in the darkness, you need to use the stars.”

“There’s some connection between stars and angels, you know, the heavenly beings that you see when you look up in the sky.”

“God’s sort of in league with us, providing us some sort of comfort and protection that allows us to express our doubts.”

“I’ve never had a meaningful prayer experience in my life…it’s just never done anything for me, and I’m blaming myself.”

“There’s an artistry to the prayer book itself…it’s really a book of poetry.”

“A lot of prayer is about trying to connect to a God who feels distant.”

“There’s sort of a communal responsibility that gets heightened when you are with other people in a prayer setting.”

“If you will it, it is no dream.”

“Although people present often as cynical, I think, underneath, people are really yearning for deep connection.”

“The secret of the Torah is not that you can begin, but that you can begin again.”

Genesis 15:1-8 - https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.15.1-8?lang=en&with=all&lang2=en


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