Monday, February 23, 2009

Minyan Curbs Creativity

Stipulation: Judaism endorses and nurtures the creative spirit.

Certainly, Rav Soloveitchik and others pointed out that the biblical instruction to walk in Gd's ways includes a mandate to be creative, just as Gd is creative. Whether producing and nurturing children, or bringing food from the earth, we are creating. The Talmud considers אומנות, craftsmanship, a fine way to earn one's living.

My problem, though, is with davening – specifically, the practical issue of attending minyan, as well as the challenge of conforming to halachic זמנים (time constraints), which require the morning shacharit to center around sunrise, and which make the most practical minchah/maariv a sunset minyan. The result of these factors is that I never watch the sun climb into the sky or descend below the horizon.

Technically, one may recite the morning Shacharit for a few hours after sunrise – but (a) this is not ideal, and (b) in terms of practicality, it is hard to assemble a minyan that late into the working morning.

Sunset? Technically, one may/should daven minchah in the early afternoon, and it is ideal to daven maariv after the stars emerge – but, again, minyan practicality makes that difficult in a community with 8,000 Jews.

The result is that I rarely witness a sunrise or a sunset. On an early Friday night I can catch sunset while walking home from shul. On the mornings when sunrise is earliest, if I rise at 5:00 I can catch sunrise before Shacharit. But these occasions are rare.

I was reminded of this beauty I am missing a couple of weeks ago, when I drove into New York for a morning meeting. Heading east on I-78 to catch minyan in New Jersey, I was floored to watch the sun rise directly in front of me. The horizon glowed with ever-lightening shades of black, purple, violet, blue, before bands of citrusy reds and oranges and yellows made their entrance. Finally, the sun itself, an incredible shining ball, backlit distant skyscrapers and illuminated shreds of cloud before taking its dominating position in the sky.

I won't pretend that I wasn't annoyed by driving into the glare, not to mention contending with the slow-down of thousands of other drivers facing the same visibility challenge... but it was worth seeing that incredible, מה רבו מעשיך! grandeur. The experience lit up the rest of my day, sparking new ideas and energy.

Of course, people who are exposed to sunrise/sunset regularly are desensitized to this celestial theater, and I would be likewise benumbed if I witnessed this daily. But seeing it occasionally, people monthly, would be something special.

Some might suggest that we could blend this majestic view with inspired prayer. Of course, there are shuls with lots of windows (and some authorities even recommend a specific number and orientation of windows for a shul), but, in truth, I could not focus on feeling the siddur's words and appreciating the beauty of nature simultaneously. I wouldn't exactly end up praying to the sun, but I would likely not end up praying to Gd, either.

So if I ever live in a place where they have an early minchah / late maariv option, I'll have to work my schedule to allow for that. Then I'll sit with a sefer at sunset, and admire this incredible world we have been given.


  1. "Of course, people who are exposed to sunrise/sunset regularly are desensitized to this celestial theater..."

    I wake up before sunrise, and Daven with it. I never tire of the view, and I admit, while davening, i won't look at it, and take the moments after to appreciate the new day.

    As for creativity - you get to pick your outfit for the day :)

  2. Shorty-
    Picking an outfit? What does that mean? Like, which white shirt I should wear?

  3. have you seen all the different whites there are these days? Egg shell, candle white, moon white...its endless :)

  4. One Friday afternoon during a summer in college, i was driving home from running errands in Flatbush, back westwards towards Boropark, and i could barely see because the sun was in my face. It was fairly frightening and frustrating, until i realized that as long as the sun was blinding me, it still hadn't set yet, and there was still time to get home before Shabbos.

  5. Shorty-
    DON'T confuse me. I know my ties all go with my plain white shirts, and I like it that way.
    Thank you.

    You might want to consider a watch next time...