Monday, January 2, 2012

In the Words Part I

T'fillah is obviously made up of seemingly countless words. Words that we can learn to say repeatedly, by memory, mumble through, or strike from our t'fillot. Lately, I have wondered about what small changes to the words would do to our experience of prayer. To that end, I have been experimenting with Nusach Sfard instead of my usual Nusach Ashkenaz. My experiment forced me to pay more attention to the words, because there are slight differences that have a profound effect on the meaning of the t'fillot.

For this particular post I want to focus on one small change from the recently completed festival of Hannukah. Most Nusach Ashkenaz siddurim print the words "b'zman hazeh" (in this time), when referring to the miracle of Hannukah, whether you conceive of the military victory or the oil as a bigger miracle is your own choice. A commentator named the L'vush changes the words to read "u'bizman hazeh" (and in this time), he feels as if miracles are still occurring even in contemporary times. Again, it's less important whether or not you believe in the statement, what's more important is to show one kind of variety in t'fillah.

This example highlights my point that small changes and small words have a profound effect on both how we experience prayer, and what prayer means to us. Through some experimentation, the words can be transformed from rote into something that speaks a personal language. Stay tuned for an update on my Nusach Sfard experiment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Windows on Jerusalem

Throughout Jewish history, since the destruction of the Second Temple, up to the present day, Jews have longed for a return to Jerusalem. At weddings, in blessings after meals, in the t'fillot, in song, and in literature, the Jewish soul yearns for Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish universe.

Two Shabbatot ago, I was in Efrat, where I stayed by one of my teachers from Pardes. The synagogue where he davens has windows on either side of the aron kodesh. The synagogue is on the northern most end of Efrat, and therefore has a view of Jerusalem through those large windows. Just past the hilltops on which sit the Arab cities of Beit Jala and Beit Lehem, is Jerusalem itself. Having lived in Jerusalem for well over a year now, mentioning Jerusalem in my davening has taken on a different tone, since I am on the inside looking out. At this point, I'm not sure that I necessarily like the new tone, but my experience in Efrat has reminded me of the kavanah with which I used to say those brachot. I was able to see Jerusalem and long to be within its embrace, to return to it, even though I was only going to be outside for about a day and a half.

I hope that our daily lives can impact the experience of our own prayer, in a way that changes kavanah, or sheds new light on "old" words.