I remember being a confirmation student in the 10th grade, sitting with my classmates in the board room at Temple Israel listening to Rabbis Shook and Mills talk about Judaism and prayer. During one class, Rabbi Shook asked us, "Do any of you ever pray before a big test?" I shook my head no, which was usually the truth; I tended and still tend to save my real prayers for things that were and are, in my mind, much more important.
Everyday that goes by, as we inch closer and closer to finals week (the first week of January) I think about that conversation. Did I need Gd's help back then, when my biggest scholastic fear was that I wouldn't pass my algebra test? I don't think so--I think Gd had bigger problems to worry about. Fast-forward 10 years to the present; here I am, finishing up my first semester of cantorial school, and I couldn't be more terrified of my exams. I still think that Gd has bigger issues to deal with, but more and more of my personal prayer time is about school--about finding the will and the strength and the clarity I need to pass my exams and survive the next 27 days.
I've noticed in recent years that I am not a fast learner; I'm not someone who can hear a lecture or read something in a book and spit out the facts verbatim right away. I need time to let it all sink it, and I need to read it, hear it, practice it twice, three times or more before it's right. I'm not a stupid person, by any means, but it feels that way sometimes, surrounded by all of these intellectual people who all seem to pick things up so quickly. When you've got as much to learn as I do, taking your time to learn it all doesn't really work very well.
What is the major difference between my 10th grade algebra test and my upcoming set of finals? This year, this January, my finals really matter. Maybe the grades themselves don't matter, but I feel a need to prove to myself and my professors that I am capable of succeeding here. I want to know that my hard work the last 6 months can and will pay off. Scholastically and spiritually, each class is a challenge that I want to rise up to and meet head on. I just need the strength, mindset, and comprehension to do so.
So, in spite of what my 10th grade mind might have thought, I'm praying for these exams in the same way I would pray for the major "tests" of the spirit and body in everyday life. Being here makes me realize that a prayer for anything, even something as silly as a test or a paper, is worthwhile of Gd's time and attention if it helps to put my mind at ease.
May each of us gain the skills necessary to succeed in all aspects of our lives, and may each of us come to appreciate the opportunities we are given to challenge ourselves and grow as students, teachers, and human beings. Blessed are you, Adonai our Gd, who gives knowledge to those willing to pursue it.
Kein y'hi ratzon--may this be Gd's will.