Friday, February 25, 2011

The Barrier

No, not the barrier you're likely thinking of. Rather, the language barrier that exists for anybody who is praying in a language that is not their native tongue.

I remember during my religious school days that we struggled to simply pronounce the words well enough to be able to recite them in public. Eventually, we were bordering on memorization. The issue then became actually understanding the words, which I admit can be a significant barrier to meaningful t'fillah. However, there are some conceptual items within the traditional liturgy that some daveners find difficult. In cases such as those, perhaps a more limited understanding is preferable, although in general I do not side with that approach.

Halakhically (according to Jewish Law), almost all of the t'fillot can be said in a language that you understand, which means not necessarily Hebrew. I submit however, that there is something unique about saying the t'fillot in Hebrew. Therefore, given my aversion to prayer in English, and the need to have at least rudimentary understanding, what should be done? I have found it helpful to focus on two brachot, or even a larger section of the t'fillah, until I am entirely comfortable with the content, main themes, words, etc... This can be done by a slower recitation of the selected texts, or through additional examination outside the context of t'fillah.

Through a further understanding of the text, we enable ourselves to appreciate the magnitude of prayer, as well as open the doors to a more personal connection to God and our communities. Good luck.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Refuah Shleimah

My apologies for the long delay between posts. I was privileged to be visited by my parents followed by a battle with the flu, which has become in the inspiration for this post. While I was sick with the flu, I was fortunate enough to receive get well wishes from a number of teachers and friends from whom and with whom I learn at Pardes. Most of those messages ended with the words "refuah shleimah" (complete recovery).

Not surprisingly, this drew my thoughts to the refuah blessing of the amidah, the 8th blessing in the weekday arrangement. We ask God for a complete healing that we will be saved and we place our trust in God to heal what ails us. The blessing concludes with Blessed are You God who heals the sick of the (His) people Israel. Individuals have the options to insert a special petition for one who is ill. In the individual petition, we ask for a speedy and quick recovery for that specific person or people. Often we think of those in need of such special t'fillot to be in dire straights, such that they need additional prayers to be offered on their behalf.

While I appreciate wholeheartedly the refuah shleimah wishes of my friends and teachers, I can't help but think that there are those who are more in need and deserving of such prayers. Or, perhaps there's a separation between the colloquial "refuah shleimah" and actually asking for a specific person's recovery during the Amidah. Or, maybe we have entered into a situation where we hope that our actions influence our thoughts. In other words, by wishing for the recovery, whether for the flu or something more serious, we are hoping to transform ourselves into people who are more compassionate to the ill. Regardless which method or methods you subscribe to, maybe this can serve as a catalyst for the way we think about the refuah bracha in the Amidah.