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A Yom Kippur Thought

13 Sep

For the last two weeks, excluding Rosh Hashanah I have been attending slichot, the nightly requests for forgiveness and purity. The slow and somewhat haunting melody in which sections of those petitions are uttered, serve to stir the soul to action and cause serious introspection. As the nights advance, the urgency increases. The slichot on the evening before Rosh Hashanah are the most lengthy, repeating and repeating the cycle of a beautifully crafted poem, with its allusions to the characters and stories of the Bible, followed by an impassioned crying out of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. Although not required, these late night pleas for mercy are recited standing, which often leads me to feel the process both physically and spiritually, especially for the marathon session that precedes Rosh Hashanah.

Some features are repeated nightly, others are specific to that day. The central poem, known as the pizmon, which is different each day, hit on the major themes of this season. They are packed with beautiful imagery, and lyrical perfection. For me however, the daily inclusion of Shma Koleinu (Hear our voice), arouses the most intense feelings. We ask God to hear us and have mercy, to return us and bring us close, to not distance Gods holiness from us, and to not cast us off in old age. The simplicity of those words, especially when contrasted with the sometimes complex nature of the liturgical poetry, creates, for me, a sense of nervous anticipation. Not only do I want God to do those things, but I also want to earn that relationship.

During the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the slichot become shorter. Amid the imagery of God sitting with a scale and weighing the merits and demerits, is a distinct feeling of hope and certainty that we have done enough to tip the balance in our favor. In other words, the more assured we become the less we feel the need to cry out for compassion. However, there remains that little bit of doubt, and that, in essence is the source of my nervous but hopeful anticipation.

Gmar chatima tova.

Through the Silence

24 Dec
English: Mostar - church and mosque

English: Mostar – church and mosque (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moments after the departure of Shabbat this week, I walked slowly, even delicately, in the direction of my yeshiva dorm almost as if I did not want to make any noise that would shatter the lingering quiet of Shabbat. Having just said ma’ariv (evening service), I knew that Shabbat was over for me and the the week was beginning, albeit in earnest.

With my prayer just concluded, another suddenly began. One by one the mosques in the Arab villages surrounding Alon Shvut began the call to prayer, the sound waves emanating from the minarets. Each muezzin, whether recorded or live, expertly pronounced every syllable of the adhan. Together they formed a surround-sound, stereo-esque sensation deep within my ears. As a result of the broken silence it would have been relatively easy to be frustrated with the overwhelming waves of sound. However, I realized that it is only because of the much-diminished Shabbat traffic on the local roads that I was able to hear so precisely the words echoing from the neighbors. On my way to the dorm I passed the yeshiva’s dining hall where the students within were cleaning up en-masse from the final Shabbat meal, in preparation for the new week, before themselves returning to the beit midrash for their own ma’ariv.

Here we are, located in an area of political controversy and historical religious significance. Each group carries a national narrative to which it clings. Those factors sometimes result in feelings of tension and distrust. Even as we live different lives, our lives are linked by common periods of prayer. Each invokes the name of God multiple times daily at prescribed times that are at least somewhat dependent on the combination two celestial bodies and their times of rising and setting, a commonality that easily goes unnoticed.  More often than not, the sounds and rhythm of daily responsibilities mutes the possibility of recognizing common practice, and in fact, it was Shabbat itself that facilitated my discovery of a truth that I suppose had been known only intuitively.

I paused on my walk, frozen in my tracks, not paralyzed, but wanting to preserve the moment, to cradle it for as long as possible. Usually t’fillah is thought of as a means of connecting the human to divine. Perhaps it can be a vehicle for linking humans to humans. With that thought I walked off into the darkness, the new week in its infancy, with the hope that others can share my epiphany.