Tag Archives: Jewish prayer

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.

Fire Over T’Fillah

11 Dec

Although we are now a few weeks removed from the tense days of war that came to define the month of November, the exact moment of the first siren has remained with me, a quasi-trauma, a frozen second that I imagine will probably never depart my psyche. In a previous blog, I wrote regularly about t’fillah, aspects thereof, and I would be remiss to leave this particular experience undocumented.

Kabbalat Shabbat, a compilation of Psalms designated by the Kabbalists of the 16th Century, which is recited, often sung, every Friday night in most communities has become one of the most significant aspects of my week. When done “correctly,” the combination of singing, energy, and outpouring of emotion, can reach some near euphoric state. Somewhere between the vibrations of voices mingled and the sheer passion, there exists a supreme peace, an acknowledgement that the six working days have concluded and the transcendence of time and space, Shabbat, has begun. That is,until with a shrill and defined wail, the sound of an air raid siren shatters the peace.

It takes a few seconds for synapses to fire, it takes a few seconds to realize, it takes a few seconds to be able to uproot ones feet when davening is quieted at yeshiva and the announcement is made about incoming missiles necessitating an immediate scramble to a sheltered area. That Shabbat I was hosting a dear friend, as the entire yeshiva began to move as one towards the shelters, our eyes locked, nothing was said, everything was said.  After the all-clear was given, and the rockets had impacted nearby, we emerged from the shelter looked skyward, usually the direction of our t’fillah and the source of desperately needed rain, to see the smoke trails of rockets, smoke trails caused by people who wished harm upon us.

Davening resumed from exactly the point where it had been interrupted, with the line final line of Psalm 29, “The Lord will give strength unto His People, the Lord will bless His people with Peace” (JPS). No doubt a poetic conclusion, as well as the yearning of all in attendance. We resumed with a new vigor, with the intensity only created in the wake of a traumatic instant, speaking only for myself, and probably for others, tears streamed down my cheeks, hot tears of anger, tears of pain, and tears of relief. We again reached a crescendo in the final line of the piyut Ana Bekoach.

Ana Bekoach, as seven line piyut (liturgical poem), was composed by Rav Nehunia Ben Hakannah. The piyut contains a coded link to the first 42 letters of the Torah, the creation story, with the hopes of connecting the reader to the unlimited Divine energy that fashioned the world itself. Each line is said to correspond to a day of the week, and so it is only appropriate that as we began the seventh day, that verse rang most true. “Receive our pleas,  hear our cries, He who knows the mysteries.” As soon as the last words left my lips, I realized, that I had indeed plead, and that I had indeed cried out to the Knower of mysteries.

What had for several years been the section of Kabbalat Shabbat that unfurled the red carpet for L’cha Dodi, the central poem of Kabbalat Shabbat, was now laden with meaning. As those tears on my face began to evaporate and L’cha Dodi began, I realized that rationale for having missiles fired over our t’fillah may never be known to me, that even as I cried out, there exists some things that will forever be beyond my comprehension, and on that Shabbat evening it was the will of men wishing our harm and destruction.