Friday, May 30, 2014

Shiur Theatre: 21st Century Tefillah, Part 3

And here is the concluding act, in which we note that the Community of "Community Prayer" is not only the current generation, but inter-generational, across time. As far as the overall debate between the importance of personalization and the importance of community, it is recognized that both must be honoured, but that personalization on an individual level can be achieved without sacrificing community.

Standing at the shulchan

NARRATOR (standing): Act Three takes place at another meeting, two weeks later.

SARA: Okay. Next up on our agenda is the Contemporary Minyan and the Alternative Contemporary Minyan – and a third version that might be starting up soon.

All at once, incredulously:
ADAM: What?
RABBI: A third Contemporary minyan?
JOSH: Why?!

SARA: Well, the idea started because the girls were fed up that the boys weren't showing up on time to their minyan, so things were starting late.

ADAM: But I've been at that minyan - the girls don't show up on time either!

SARA: Yes, but when they do show up at 11:00, they want the minyan to be in musaf already.

JOSH (rolls his eyes): Just like their parents.

SARA: So they're bothered by the lateness, and they also want to make more changes to the minyan, and the boys don't like their ideas.

ADAM: Changes like what?

SARA (serious about the idea): Well, the Beiber berachah was their idea, and the boys rejected it, so they want that included. And they want a berachah for success on their exams, which the boys think is juvenile. And they think the berachah that the boys created for their NCAA March Madness pool is juvenile. So the girls want to create what they are calling the Female Alternative Contemporary Minyan.

MOSHE RABBEINU walks into shul at this point, from the doors in the back. The participants don't see him yet, as he walks to them slowly, grandly.

ADAM (upset): So now we're supposed to have a (counting on his fingers) Main Minyan, a Hashkamah Minyan, a Contemporary Minyan, an Alternative Contemporary Minyan, and an Alternative Female Contemporary Minyan?

RABBI (agitated): And the whole ברב עם הדרת מלך idea of davening in a large group is toast! Not to mention לא תתגודדו, the prohibition against splitting ourselves into micro-groups.

JOSH (even more agitated): And I want to know: What's coming next?

Moshe is now at the table

MOSHE (firmly): Ahem.

RABBI (eyeing the desert robe) : Umm… who are you?

MOSHE (matter-of-factly): I believe you usually call me Moshe Rabbeinu, but Moshe is fine.

Everyone stands back quickly

RABBI: No beard?!

MOSHE: Shaved for Lag ba'Omer.

RABBI: Oh. Um. Yeah. Um. Uhhh… What are you doing here? Are you here to solve this situation?

MOSHE: Do you really think there's a solution to this problem? This is one of those timeless challenges that Judaism presents.

RABBI: So what will you add to this "timeless challenge"?

Everyone relaxes a bit, back into meeting mode

MOSHE: I believe in personally crafting prayer to suit a particular situation – When my sister Miriam was sick, I drafted a short, five-word prayer for her. When the Jews made the Golden Calf, I prayed for forty days. It's like that boy, Jason, who you’ve been worried about; different situations call for different things.

RABBI (shocked): So you believe in the Alternative Female Contemporary Minyan?

MOSHE (pained expression): Please don't oversimplify; your point about the communal emphasis of communal prayer is right. And I want to add, from my own experience, that the goal of communal prayer is to bind Jews together across time, spanning the generations, as a single community, in a single covenant.

ADAM: Across time? What does that mean?

MOSHE: In the beginning, Gd made a pact with Avraham regarding the fate of his descendants. The covenant into which we entered on the banks of the Jordan River was for all Jews, in all generations. לנו ולבנינו עד עולם, for us and for our children, eternally.[1] We are one unit.

SARA: But Moshe – sir - how does being one nation affect our choice of davening, so long as we daven to HaShem?

MOSHE: Because HaShem wishes to view us as one nation when we daven. Just read the book of Shemot;[2] He heard our cries in Egypt, and He remembered Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. HaShem told us to use the Name, "The Gd of Avraham, the Gd of Yitzchak, the Gd of Yaakov," to invoke that crossing of the generations when we daven.

RABBI (excited): And you did that, too! That was your own experience - When you davened for the Jews after the Eigel, you asked Gd to remember Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov![3]

MOSHE: Precisely; to me, it is most important that each generation not view itself as isolated, adrift in time, but part of a chain of generations. So it is that your minhagim and text remain the same as that which your ancient ancestors used.

SARA (catching on): Right; and that's why we have midrashim about Jews of later generations coming to Rachel, or Yirmiyahu, or – or you – to daven for us. That's why some Jews will go to a grave to daven, to ask for help. Davening is about more than just making myself more connected to Gd.

MOSHE: Now you're getting it. And it's important to feel the bond with those ancestors. Don't you feel it when you daven, that link with your ancestors who said the same words, bowed the same way? Individual Jews have always recited words that conflicted with their personal emotions or experience in some way, just to be part of that group.[4]

ADAM: So it's about connecting with each other and with our ancestors.

MOSHE: Very much so. And at a time like this, a time of all those grand movements and schisms you mentioned earlier – now, more than ever, we need something that will hold us together, that all of us will have in common. Community Tefillah does that.

JOSH: So I'm confused; you endorse personalizing prayer, but you are adamant about preserving community. So what are you recommending? What would you tell our camper, Jason?

MOSHE: That I value both sides. And compromise is difficult. King Solomon's wife, daughter of the Pharaoh, tried to introduce music that she favoured into the service of the Beit haMikdash; that didn't go over well.[5] Innovations can easily lead to division, and as the Chatam Sofer noted,[6] based on a Mishnah,[7] "Unity, togetherness, benefits the righteous and those around them." Not to mention, the trust that comes from communal prayer is lost when people will not daven together.

RABBI (dejected): So then nothing we do will be right?

MOSHE: Nothing will be right, perhaps, but there is plenty that we can do. We should try to satisfy individualism, and the needs of a new generation of Jasons, to help them draw closer to Gd. And we should try to keep the community together, not innovating to the point that we defeat the Community aspect of Community Prayer. But most of all, we need to have the humility to recognize that we may never get it entirely right, and that those with whom we disagree will never be entirely wrong.

SARA: But – can you give us some practical direction?

MOSHE: First, I'd suggest learning. From what I have seen, davening isn't  treated as a serious subject for study, not at home and not at school. I don't mean the rules of davening, but the text. We can hardly expect people – children or adults – to find themselves and their needs and their emotions in the davening, unless they devote energy to the task.

JOSH: Understood.

MOSHE: And second: Jews have always specialized in mitzvot that resonated with their personality and talents, as the Netziv[8] and Rav Kook[9] discussed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Or like the Chatam Sofer said,[10] "No two people have the same style, because no two people love HaShem in the same way." So I favour encouraging people to add personal requests. In mitzvos, beautify them in your own style.[11] In minhag, choose songs that your family will sing at your Shabbos table. The more it can be kept to the personal level, the better.

JOSH: So that we won't alienate each other.

SARA: And so that we won't alienate ourselves from our predecessors.

MOSHE: Precisely. It won't satisfy all of the Jasons, but perhaps it will give them the tools to find themselves in their own davening, and over time they might come to appreciate finding themselves in community, too. (turns to go) And now, I must go.

RABBI: Wait, Moshe! Just one second. (reaches for his phone) Could we – would you mind – could I take a selfie with you?

MOSHE: A selfie? Seriously? Haven't you heard what I've been saying? The point isn't Selfies – the point is Community.

[1] Devarim 29:28
[2] Shemot 2:24
[3] Shemot 32:13
[4] See an interesting article by Professor David Flusser
[5] Shabbos 56b; and see Rif 281, Darchei Moshe Orach Chaim 53:10, Radvaz 2:890, Kaf haChaim 13:6, Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:77, and see Yabia Omer 6:Orach Chaim 7:3.
[6] Chatam Sofer 5:Choshen Mishpat 12:3
[7] Sanhedrin 8:5
[8] Netziv to Bamidbar 24:6
[9] Poem – אל חכי שופר
[10] Chatam Sofer 1:197
[11] Shabbos 133b

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