Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Getting Closer to God with Words - Tuesday Kavvanah, 1/3/2012

Most Jewish services are not brief - a weekday morning service, for example, without Torah reading, is about 40 minutes of chanting, singing, mumbling, and silent prayer, much of which goes by quite rapidly.

Why so many words?  I am told that Rabbi Mordecai Waxman (zikhrono livrakhah / may his memory be for a blessing), who was the senior rabbi at my congregation for no less than 55 years, used to call this phenomenon "the accretion of the ages," accompanied by a hearty guffaw.

In all seriousness, though, the very concept of the offerings of our lips (perhaps consonant with Hosea 14:3) raises all sorts of questions.  Is the point just to recite the words because that is the way it is traditionally done?  If one cannot recite all the words in the blur of 40 minutes, has one not fulfilled the obligation of tefillah?  What about the meaning?  What if I disagree with or am otherwise challenged by the traditional words, a situation in which I occasionally find myself?

Each word of tefillah that we recite, each word of traditional Hebrew prayer brings us a wee bit closer to God.  Yes, all of the above questions are important.  But sometimes tefillah works best if we push aside the rational and the halakhic in favor of a simpler concept: before we launch ourselves into our morning, spending a few minutes drawing nearer to the Divine will pay off for the rest of the day.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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