Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Gd's Name

[Post I read a short while ago: Pre-Purim Kosher Beer List at Kosher Beers]

When I was a synagogue rabbi, I had to deal with my own serious desensitization to the space of a shul – after all, I was in there all the time, whether for prayer or to prepare the room or to check the lighting or to roll a Torah or to teach or to look at whether the vents really did blow cold air too strongly on X's seat or whatever.

In order to preserve the special meaning that I felt should come with standing in shul, I followed the laws regarding not entering the room unnecessarily, and not using the space inappropriately, but I also tried to take special note of every time I entered and exited that room. The idea was that each visit should be significant.

Some time last year I tried to apply the same principle to the challenge of prayer. The specific challenge: The sages speak of the importance of invoking Gd’s Name without proper concentration (such as in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 5, and see Shut Nishmas Chaim 11), but we invoke Gd’s Name so many times in the course of our thrice-daily prayer, as well as in the random and regular blessings that dot the day’s schedule, that I find myself numb to the Name and its meaning, especially as a million thoughts crowd into my head.

So I tried an experiment: I numbered the Names. In my siddur [prayer book], in certain portions, I numbered the Names of Gd as they appeared. I stuck with the four-letter י-ק-ו-ק, for simplicity’s sake. 18 in Yhi Chvod, 10 in Ashrei, 20 in the five הללוקה paragraphs (Tehillim 146-150), 29 in the body of the Amidah, and so on.

The idea was simply to make myself take notice every time I saw a number in my siddur, but along the way I noticed some other interesting points, including: That King David’s Tehillim are עניים במקום אחד ועשירים במקום אחר, including many iterations of Gd’s Name in certain chapters (like #146) and relatively few in others (like #148). That the Sages were less likely to include Gd’s Name in their poetry than King David was in his. That the Name itself plays a poetic role in certain places. And so on.

Of course, after a time that which was new becomes old, and by now I need new ‘tricks’ to keep myself in line. But this was effective for a time, and perhaps it will help others to develop methods of their own.


  1. Very astute comments.
    I might add,that the comunity is also grieving for teir loss.
    Is there anything the Rabbi can do to allow expression of his and/or their losses.

  2. Sorry.
    My comment should have been for "How to leave your shul."