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.