Sunday, October 23, 2011


In our efforts to try and find spirituality and deep connections in prayer often lead us to take t’fillah very seriously. Generally, that is a practice which I would commend, and even recommend, since it would theoretically allow us to block out distractions and concentrate solely on our relationship with Gd.

Perhaps the best example is Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which have taken on a doom and gloom atmosphere when it comes to t’fillah, at least for the majority of Ashkenazi communities. While there is plenty of reason to have those feelings given the gravity of the day, there is also room for celebration. Regardless, the unbridled celebration comes five days after Yom Kippur with the onset of Sukkot. In Israel, the mood change is palpable as soon as the Sukkot begin popping up around town. In some cases, already narrow streets become labyrinths in which pedestrians must negotiate the sukkot.

During t’fillah on sukkot the atmosphere in the synagogue is palpable with excitement. We get to enjoy the hands-on experience of shaking the lulav and etrog. Hallel (Psalms of praise) are joyously sung. Most notably for me, however, was that there was much more talking during t’fillah. The shul in which I davened for the holidays is very serious, in my opinion, about their davening, and they avoid most conversation. To see this entire community enjoying more light-hearted moments during t’fillah was as if I was witnessing, and to some extent participating in, the collective sigh of relief that comes after a long transformative undertaking.

What’s the take-away?
I have written a lot about the importance of taking tfillah seriously in order to find meaning with in it, and allow it to take hold of the davener. However, I’d also put forth the idea that we might be able to find davening equally as effective at penetrating our hearts if we back off the seriousness just slightly, and allow for a more festive vibes.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Yom Kippur Wrap

I will be the first to admit that Yom Kippur is one of my favorite days of the year. Between the liturgical poetry, the beautiful nusach, and the freedom from caring about my appearance, or physical sustenance, the experience is a catharsis of emotions and senses.

Even with all of the positives, I found myself doubled over the chair in front of me as neilah (closing service) headed toward its conclusion. This year, I decided to stand for as much of Yom Kippur as possible. I believe that the tfillot are more participatory and experiential than any other day of the year, and I was trying to take advantage of that element. I wanted to make an attempt to stand before Gd, since if I was in court I certainly wouldn't be sitting as I plead for my fate. I also saw it as a method by which I could afflict myself just a little bit further.

Back to being doubled over the chair. The standing on very hard stone floors, coupled with the lack of food and water were taking a small toll on my body. My back was aching, knees sore, head seeming to float slightly on my shoulders, tears in the corners of my eyes. However, the harder I davened, the more the discomfort abated, or became less noticeable. Once neilah was completed and maariv began, all of those aches returned.

I do not claim to have found the secret to prayer. But the task now becomes taking that full body experience into all of my davening, and by extension our davening. Any ideas?