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Slow Sculpture

Rabbi Larry Pinsker and Rebbetzin "Relle", posted December 14, 2011

 

[This has been reprinted with permision from http://rabbipinsker.blogspot.com/. It was written this past summer]

The sun has set and our first Shabbat in Jerusalem is over, but it has left some beautiful memories.

Where to start? Each element reshapes the way we view the course of our own way of "doing Judaism." With what can we compare a morning walk to synagogue down streets emptied of vehicular traffic? How shall we speak about the ebb and flow of crowds strolling through the park across the street on a hot afternoon, or the families fortunate who have settled into the shade with their picnic baskets and are at play, spinning stories, and teaching elegant simple lessons? Where are the cellphones and the portable electronic gaming devices that isolate and distract so effectively? What's so right about these people that they can enjoy each other's company in this way?

How shall we describe what it feels like when a service consists of hundred of people singing the prayers, filling the sanctuary with their voices? Instead, the shaliach tzibbur -- whose task it is to set the pace and tone of the service and "dispatches" the community's prayers -- invites everyone to the task, and they respond with waves of prayer pour out into the surrounding courtyard. This is Congregation Shira Hadasha ("A New Song") on Emek Refaim, where we davvened in the midst of four hundred observant men and women who have pioneered a fresh approach to Orthodoxy. No one is an audience, no one is performing. Instead, everyone is praying to God, and the warmth directed to each Torah honouree -- especially to the young couple who are to be married the next day -- is itself a song. This is what prayer is like when each person "serves God" -- works at being his or her own voice, complementing and entwining with the voices of Torah and haftarah readers, those who serve as shaliach tzibbur -- and the person designated to teach something -- intimately, confessionally, personally -- about the meaning of the Torah text.

Forgive me, but I'm trying to write about something not particularly in my head. Trust me to try to make words define something that exists in the spaces between human souls when they are gathered to share in a common purpose.

But I don't really experience this as something intellectual. Fumbling with an unfamiliar siddur [prayerbook] -- as it turns out, the binding has deteriorating and it's missing lots of pages, making my search for the right page futile -- I realize that I am singing the prayers without skipping a beat. The words and music rise from my throat -- and everyone else's prayers are an invitation not to miss out on this serene and yet undeniably majestic sea of prayers. You can't drown, you can't disappear beneath or into these waves that are forming from you and others like you as you pray.


It's something happening between us -- between the tourists visiting God's neighbourhood and discovering it just may be possible to catch a glimpse of the Shocheyn Ad -- "the One Who Dwells in Eternity" -- or, more intimately, our divine Neighbour in eternity -- and the people who are the core of the community that is Shira Hadasha and who each week share what they have discovered with visitors.

This is surely why the term for worship (or service to God) is avodah -- the same word that means "work" and can slide into "involuntary servitude" or "slavery". The kind of prayer we Jews idealize requires preparation -- hone your tools and learn to use them properly, gather your materials, gather yourself to pick up your part of the task.

Prayer isn't entertainment, nor a consumable marketed by our culture of instantaneous enlightenment. Prayer is a kind of work where the product is at once yourself becoming more the kind of being God imagined you might be and also an environment -- a place in this world where compassion, forgiveness, and inspiration move everyone forward toward that goal.

It's almost midnight in Jerusalem -- but we are still lingering over the other sights and sounds now faded into the darkness and noise of restored traffic. Some of the people in the park hasten to daven at the yeshivot and synagogues that dot these streets. We can hear some of them praying the mincha/ma'riv [afternoon and evening prayers] services are being prayed. We can hear the sounds of lessons being taught but the teachers aren't lecturing: they are singing their insights to mark the end of Shabbat afternoon prayer and prepare the way for the ma'riv [evening] service and havdalah that separates Shabbat from the ordinary days of the week.

I am mindful of the last 48 hours being a little like the Japanese art form known as bonsai. Seedling trees are trained to develop not in their full-sized form, but rather in miniature. Every space occupied by a person or people is like the ancient Temple. Raised lovingly, tenderly, and with the proper direction, each person becomes the centre of a holy space in which he or she contributes to others' well-being, so that others are a little less alone, a little less frightened, a little less deprived of the holiness flowing from God into the world.

Our time here is reshaping who we are, and we are feeling some old patterns falling away and new growth finding its proper form.

My God, it's good to be here, and wonderful to be sharing this with you!

Shavua tov! A good week to you all.


Rabbi Larry Pinsker (and Rebbetzin 'Relle
)

 
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