I’m very excited to announce that beginning this month, I’ll be leading Rosh Chodesh services at OneShul.org. OneShul is a cyber-shul, and if that sounds nuts — trust me it works! The services are streamed live, and you participate via a chat feature. I attended their first ever Kabbalat Shabbat this past friday and was pleasantly surprised by what a lovely, real experience it was.
Even if you doubt the cyber-shul experience — give it a try!
WHERE & WHEN:
Time: 7:30 pm (EST)
Because Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat this month, it will be a combined Kabbalat Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh service. We’ll be using the OneShul Siddur this month for Kabbalat Shabbat — if you don’t have one you can easily purchase one, or they have a great feature where the siddur just appears on the page for you, which means you don’t have to buy one. But of course, I’ll be weaving in some fabulous Kohenet versions of the chants and songs.
The Rosh Chodesh portion will be based on the ritual I used with the group I hosted at my home for about a year, modified for this environment. Here’s the insert if you want to download it now (pdf). This insert is an outline, but I expect, depending on time and interest that we’ll also talk about the month ahead (Adar I).
Learn about the month of Adar:
Be sure to bring your own challah and wine! It’s hard to share that over the Internet!
Subscribe on iTunes!
A prayerbook is an interesting thing. It begs the question, how well can someone else’s words describe your inner feelings, your deepest needs and desires? Why do we even need a siddur anyways? Isn’t the point of prayer to talk to G-d, or whatever we call that awe-some power that is larger than ourselves?
If we allow ourselves to look at things from a different point of view we can see how we can benefit from a written liturgy.
While we have invited the members of our community to contribute new interpretations of standard liturgical pieces, new understandings of traditional blessings and prayers, we have attempted to maintain a particular sense of order in the creation of the daily service. The reason for this is because the daily services are crafted for a very specific purpose, to create a distinct experience that is a stark reflection of our spiritual journey throughout the day. The services are, in fact, both the map and the territory of a journey into the deepest realms of the spirit.
The order of the service was crafted by the sages to guide us through an experience that reflects the importance of communicating with the Source of Life. Taking us by the hand, the order of service walks with us, laying out a clear pathway to elevate our souls, to describe the madness and miracles we see everyday, and to give us words when our own fail us.
Starting at the beginning, the opening psalms energize us, they prime the pump of spirit, and help to fuel the engines of prayer that we need to journey deeper into the presence of the Holy One. Each successive prayer gives us new insight into our experience and draws us closer to the heights, symbolically ushering us through the sefirot, guiding our minds and hearts. We reach the apex of our journey, our approach to the Throne of Glory in the Shema and the Amida, the Standing Prayer. We have worked our way upwards the highest heights, reflecting on the oneness of the Universe and the relationship of a people and their essence, the liturgy giving us the words to express the inexpressible inside of us. The Aleinu gives us time to reflect and express our gratitude as we slowly descend in a meditative state, slowly backing down the ladder, en-wrapped in the Shekhinah, enmeshed in the ultimate and miraculous Oneness of Reality. Reciting psalms allow us to de-compress and release excessive spiritual energy, and to rest in reflection of the transformative nature of the prayers.
Does this mean we have to pray exactly as the Sages have written? No. We keep the map, but we need to discover the territory ourselves. This is why we have a community siddur. No one person can express what is in another person’s heart, but they can sometimes come close. If you feel drawn to some prayers in this or any other siddur, use them! If you feel that you need to use your own words, use them! I encourage you to write your own! But do not discard the resources from those who have been there before you.
Does this mean that we are always going to have a “magical” prayer experience? No, absolutely not. The order of the service is there to make sure we make the journey; it does the heavy lifting for us. All we have to do is to commit to the going. It is the doing that makes the difference. Judaism is a spiritual practice and not a “creedal” religion; it’s not about what you believe, it’s about what you do. Take a step, keep moving forward. Allow yourself to be changed, and you can change the world.
I’ve neglected going to services lately because I am really not comfortable there. We go in, we pick up a siddur, we sit down, and invariably our daughter either wakes up or jumps down and starts running around. All the old bubbies start to murmur and give us dirty looks and then my wife has to escort the little vilde chaya out the door while I stay and daven alone. This is fine. It is routine and I expect it, though I’m saddened that we have to be separated during what I consider to be a both personally spiritually important time and a good spiritual environment for the kid.
My real disappointment lies in the way we are holding modern, “liberal-type” services. We all sit in rows in a fancy sanctuary, sing songs and follow along and do the “call and response” type of thing. We listen patiently as the leader drones in that “poetry/sing-songy/disingenuous” kind of high pitched voice. And it struck me that it was all so, for lack of a better word, “church-y”. I hated it. It feels like it is copying the Protestant style of Western church worship, from the music to the atmosphere. Someone at the service even made a comment (jokingly, I think) about being “quiet at church”. I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t this be different than church? Why are we trying to be like that? To fit in? No thanks.” We are different, and that should be a good thing. Jews always have been different. We’re iconoclasts! We break down walls and smash idols! Heck, we’re different from each other! You know that old chestnut, “two Jews, three opinions”!
My first exposure to a Chabad type service was really, interesting. We were on vacation, so we went somewhere we normally wouldn’t have gone. This was very different. Everyone seemed to be mumbling and shuckling and I had no idea where I was in the service. After fifteen minutes I gave up trying and I just followed along as best I could. The shaliach’s kids came right up to him and he would pick up the little ones in between prayers. It was pretty overwhelming and a disorienting.
The same type of thing happened later when I was at a much smaller minyan and everyone was davening at different speeds. I got flustered and frustrated. I even got mad at the guy next to me for going so fast and not doing it “right”. After thinking later about why I got angry, what about everyone not praying together made me some upset, I figured it out.
Jacob Siegel, in a fantastic post you should check out, put it like this:
In the middle of this cacophony of prayers, “I would form my own personal connection with G-d, and you, praying beside me, would do the same, and we would each be vocalizing at different paces, and we would each be inspiring the other to achieve a spiritual awareness that we would then carry throughout the day.” This is incredible to me. It is that independence in the midst of community, what I consider almost the definition of Yiddshkeit, that electrifies my neshama.
I’m not saying one way is right and the other wrong. I am saying that it is a shame if we are changing our nature to conform to an idea of what a progressive, liberal service should look like. Something that IndieYeshiva and PunkTorah are trying to do is to bring these ideas back into the way we “do” Jewish, and have them there for us, to make our Yiddishkeit genuine and real, and by “genuine and real” I don’t mean specifically that there is one right way to do things, but a way that resonates with our past. I’m taking about an Integral Judaism that would transcend and include the past (more on that in another post).
I would like to, if I may, let Mr. Siegel take us out, because any paraphrasing on my part would be just that, and I feel he puts is very eloquently:
‘When we pray, we share our energy. I davven, and you hear me and feel inspired, and I hear you and feel further inspired. Let’s thank our cantors for their efforts in service of us and G-d, and ask them to step down from the bimah and stand beside us, as we now all share together in our cleaving to G-d.”