Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Psalm 27: A Personal Reflection II

With the onset of Rosh Hodesh Elul, we will begin the twice daily recitation of Psalm 27, along with the daily blasts of the shofar. Sephardic communities begin the recitation of slichot (liturgical poems for forgiveness), and the gradual ascension from Tisha b'Av to Rosha Hashana increases its gradient. As such, I thought it would be a good time to share a few of my thoughts on the psalm that we will be reciting for the next six weeks. If you'd like the text, it can be found here.

The entire Psalm, I believe, is written from a very personal perspective. The psalmist has entered into a discussion with God, but we can hear only the words of the supplicant. We see a petition for physical and spiritual protection, followed by what for me is the most significant section of the psalm, psukim (verses) 9-11. There is little doubt in my mind that the author of the shma koleinu, found in the Yom Kippur liturgy, knew verse 9 quite well, adding power to the psalm and piyut alike.

There is an existing relationship that has been stretched too thin, the psalmist does not want to be cast off or abandoned by God, one could say this is part of the t'shuva process. Wanting to reenter the relationship, the psalmists cannot afford to find that God is hiding.

Verse 10 makes the plea increasingly personal. Judaism places an extremely high value on the relationship between parents and children. The idea that a parent would forsake a child breeds a feeling of sheer terror. Feelings of loneliness and desertion are terrible when they stand alone, but when caused by those who care for us, they are amplified exponentially. Are psalmists next words are those of petition or affirmation? Although solo, the psalmist expresses an assured feeling of faith, while also asking God to perform the action of A'S'F. The shoresh here can be translated as gathering. Thus, the psalmist is asking to be gathered in like the harvest, bundled and kept close, a connection to Sukkot could be found here.

Finally, in verse 11 we see a return to the dependence of verse 9. Asking for God to lead him down the even path, and to protect him from enemies, the psalmist is sure that he is within the protection of God. In Parashat shoftim, our parasha this week, the final verse implores us to do what is right in the eyes of God (Dvarim 21:9) similar phrases, which are also read at this time of year can also be found(Dvarim 6:17-18,12:28,13:19). From closeness to waywardness and loneliness, we slowly return to God's embrace, but to remain there, godly conduct is a must.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Say hi to Hashem for me"

On more than one occasion, from more than one person, and in more than one place, I can recall somebody saying to me, "Say hi to Hashem for me" as I headed off to the synagogue, or when I was discussing which synagogue I might attend on a given day. Some of those comments were no doubt in jest, but regardless of which ones were and which weren't it reveals an interesting topic of exploration, praying for somebody else. Praying for somebody else, not in the sense of asking for healing, but actually praying in somebody else's stead. Tamar Fox, an associate editor for My Jewish Learning, authored the following article here about paying to pray. It's well worth reading.

An idea that occurred to me, and one on which Tamar touches, is what I've termed the "agent factor." While I don't want to make too broad of a generalization, the majority of American and likely world Jews are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the structure of the siddur or are not equally uncomfortable with prayer. The discomfort with prayer itself is for individual exploration. I believe however, that we owe it to our communities to teach the siddur in a way that allows people to access it, and its rich history. With enough quality information, I think that the need to pay somebody else to pray would become obsolete because people would not be worried about facing public embarrassment when entering a prayer space. To read a bit more about that, here's another good article: DavenSpot

So while "say hi to Hashem for me" might not always be a serious remark, the duty falls upon us to open prayer to everybody without it having to cost a cent.