Saturday, August 31, 2013

Getting Selichot

My apologies for not sharing or publishing more often, but the blog as been unofficially been put "on hold" and I hope to have more clarity of the future of this resource in the new Jewish Year (if you like or feel strongly about this blog, please feel free to comment and/or share so that I can pass on the feedback).

However I did not want to miss the opportunity to share a wonderful perspective on selichot - which begin for Ashkanzim tonight, the motzai Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. Rabbi Benny Lau made a fascinating point this evening about the uniqueness of the selichot service.

There are specific rules governing tefilla, which often call upon a rabbi or gabbai to arbitrate what should be said under specific circumstances.  One such questions arises regarding the kaddish titkabel - the full kaddish. Rav Benny noted that this is only said after davening the Amidah - which the gemara really considers tefilla.  Interestingly, kaddish titkabel is said at the end of the selichot service, despite the very absence of the Amidah.  His argument was that we are to treat this service with the similar level of preparation and intensity, as the structural hope of the kaddish asks for Hashem to receive (titkabel) the requests and prayers, and follows with our desire for peace to come upon us and all of Israel.  Rav Benny cited a source (I think the Levush Malchut) arguing that selichot are structured like a normal mincha service, starting with ashrei, followed but a hatzi kaddish, and ending with tachanun and then kaddish titkabel. The motivational goal here is for each of us to reapproach our selcihot to the core text, the 13 attributes and to see them as an opportunity to a recharge our divine sparks.

I want to humbly add on to Rav Benny's words by noting that the essence of Neilla on Yom Kippur is the furious recitation of selichot and our plea's for mercy rooted in the heritage of the covenant of the 13 attributes as the gates of the day close.

I hope that you have a meaningful preparation for the High Holy Days.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Teaching Decorum or Davening?

The following was shared from a reader about their synagogue's latest attempt to change the atmosphere of the shul.  It will be interesting to see what will be the next quick fix - as discussed, Dr. Levitz does identify this as one of the less successful attempts to break the "cycle of rebuke, resistance, and resentment".  What are your thoughts?
As you know, we've been considering ways to improve decorum in the Main Minyan. One area of concern is the disruption caused by adults and children coming in and out of the sanctuary during Torah reading and the Rabbi's drasha.

To address this issue, starting this Shabbat, we are going to lock three of the four outer central doors of the sanctuary (on the main level)  during Torah reading and the drasha. The doors will be locked from the outside only. The doors to the balcony will remain unlocked at all times.

During Torah reading and the drasha, the outer door on the far right (leading to the Main Sanctuary vestibule) will remain unlocked. The inner side door will be monitored by a volunteer who will permit adults and children to enter at breaks in the Torah reading and will let adults in at appropriate points in the drasha. Children will not be allowed to enter at any time during the drasha, so if your child is able to sit quietly during the drasha, please have him or her in the sanctuary before it begins. It is important that children understand this new practice and we ask that you explain the guidelines to your children.

Members who need to step out can of course do so at any time and are asked to use the door on the right as well.

We would appreciate male volunteers to help us monitor the side door. The volunteer will sit inside the sanctuary and will therefore not miss either laining or the drasha

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mazal Tov on Your New Mitzvah

The following is a thank you note to a friend who invited me to be there when he put on his tefillin for the first time.  I know H's awesome parents gave it a lot of thought and hope that he will embrace the spirit and actions of our tradition - I think today was a great first step. 

Dear H - 
Thanks so much for inviting me to join in your minyan this morning, witnessing the first time you wrapped tefillin.  I think it is a nice idea to have some practice time before your formal bar-mitzvah to get used to the leather as it is a sometimes difficult .  
After we concluded davening and had some yummy muffins and smoothies, I was biking home and remembered the first time I put on tefillin; the awkward way it wrapped so largely around my hand yet the comforting feeling of having my Dad teaching me how "we do it".  But my story took a twist and I rarely used my tefillin except at camp and on a few random events or mornings.  That is until my first year of college, and I am proud to say that I haven't missed a day since.   
Don't get me wrong H - I am not trying to obligate or motivate you to wrap every morning. The reason my tefillin streak is 19 years strong is that there was a day I chose one mitzvah to do perfectly.  I remember learning, hearing or reading somewhere, that each person should choose one mitzvah and do it in an exemplary way (not a radom one like sending away the mother bird).  By choosing one everyday act that no matter what, rain or shine, good mood or bad, you will keep that custom alive and imbue it with meaning it will guide you in the years to come. I chose tefillin for many reasons (happy to share in person) - but hope that as you become 'of age' to do mitzvot, you will ponder and acquire one specific mitzvah that will be your hallmark. (funny that I know see that this is Chabad's advice for a bar-mitzvah project!) 
I look forward to sharing many good times (and muffins) together in the future.  Good luck tomorrow with the wrapping!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Don't Repent - Prepent!

Lab/Shul and TabletMag are launching a new Elul blog - calling it Prepent 5774. I encourage you to check it out and share your feedback.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Don't Forget to Add...

A warm wish to all the readers of the blog, Hodesh Tov - may this the last month of the Jewish year bring you a culmination of your efforts and tefillot! I hope that you didn't miss the 'world day of tefilla" that I read about in The Yeshiva World News.

More important, don't forget to add 'L'David' - psalm 27 to your tefillot. To the Sephardic readers, may your selichot be received!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Davening with Annoying People

A loyal reader of the blog approached me with interesting davening dilemma. He has stopped going to his regular minyan, to the point that the rabbi of the shul called to see if everything was OK.  The reason he switched his prayer local was solely because of a particular worshiper who mutters loudly throughout the tefilla. Citing the ongoing disruption, his seemingly need to draw attention to himself - the personal atmosphere became too much for this fellow to tolerate so he switched minyanim.

Haven't we all experienced this at one time or another.

I had the pleasure of living in a one minyan town, to which there are many beautiful advantages.  However, there was an unfortunate streak of deaths spread out 10 months apart that led to the morning tefilla consistently being led by the most tone-deaf, Hebrew illiterate mumblers for a good few years.  It was painful - dentist office painful.  I was able to find an antidote from quitting the minyan from the Ramban's famous letter to his son:
Therefore, I will now explain to you how to always behave humbly. Speak gently at all times, with your head bowed, your eyes looking down to the ground and your heart focusing on Hashem. Don't look at the face of the person to whom you are speaking. Consider everyone as greater than yourself. If he is wise or rich, you should give him respect. If he is poor and you are richer -- or wiser -- than he, consider yourself to be more guilty than he, and that he is more worthy than you, since when he sins it is through error, while yours is deliberate and you should know better!
I found a way to see these daveners as making a significant contribution to the tefilla, and humbled myself before their off key nusach.  Right before Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur we recite a permission, a public calling out of a policy to daven with sinners.  "Al Daat HaMakom" may have entered the traditional mahzor after the Spanish inquisition and the prevalence of crypto-Jews.  However I think it is refreshingly honest of us to recognize that although we are striving for purity and perfection on the holiest of days, we are also among wanton sinners, annoying people, and stiff-necked ideologies. How to pray with annoying people?  It's easier said then done. I guess the first step is to ask yourself if you are that person and be the change you want to daven next to in this world.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Learn to Daven - Online!

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, on the Ramaz website, offers significant resources on "How to Daven as a Ba'al Tefilla".

Another great internet resource for teaching practical tefilla skills is the Machon Hadar Minyan Project which has handouts, resources and niggunim (melodies and much more!).