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.