Tag Archives: Psalm 29

Okay. So, what now?

29 Sep

Whether you are in the diaspora or Israel, all of the holidays in this season have come to a close. Although we may joke about them finally being over and the relief therein, every year at this point, I experience a quasi-withdrawl syndrome. The following is an attempt to put some of those thoughts into writing.

Since the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul, we have had a very close relationship with God. Adding an extra Psalm morning and evening, daily blasts of the shofar, and month-long selichot for Sepharadim. Rosh Hashanah inaugurated the new year replete with blessings of happiness and health, the official blowing of the shofar and proclamation of God’s sovereignty over the world. Of course, underlying the celebrations is the thread of personal introspection and tshuva. I’d like to suggest that the entire season reaches its climax on Yom Kippur when we act out the service of the High Priest in the Temple chambers, God is nearly tangible, and yet the day slowly slips away as the gates close. But we are not done yet, the unbridled happiness, and possibly relief, of Sukkot follows immediately. We have more festive meals, wave the four species, rejoice with the Torah itself, celebrating both its completion and renewal. Having hopefully assured our spiritual wellbeing, we approach God one more time on Shemini Atzeret to ask to be physically sustained by the waters of the heavens. And then it’s over. So, what now?

As a means of resolving this withdrawl syndrome, I considered other times in Judaism where an intensive cycle concludes, leaving the participants to return to a more normal slate of activities. Two examples came to mind almost immediately. Shiva, the intense week of mourning that is observed after the death of an immediate family member, eventually gives way to the less intensive periods of mourning. As the mourner is “stepped-down” he or she must return to life and adjust to the terrible new reality, a much more mundane task then being constantly surrounded by friends and family. Similarly, although significantly happier, the newly married couple must, at the conclusion of their wedding week, set in motion the tasks associated with building a life together. Gone are the massive meals, although there is certainly residual excitement (well, hopefully), as the couple adjusts to the job at hand.

I definitely do not want to presume that others are necessarily experiencing the same feelings, nor do I want my attempted solution to be viewed as prescriptive. I would like to suggest that we attempt to draw slivers of the intensive periods into the long stretches of mundane. Whether it is the recitation of a Psalm or poem, a regular phone call to a loved one, or anything in between that captures the feelings of the days of greatest intensity and disperses them among the rest.

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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.