The first two holy days of Passover came to an end last night and with the holy days, so went my children. As we made Havdalah, Josh left for the airport to return to Israel and his IDF unit. Noah returned to Maryland, Ben to college finals, and soon Sarah and Sagi will return to Israel as well. Moadim l’simcha, we say, may these middle days of Passover be filled with joy. Forgive me if my joy feels a bit diminished.
And I really mean: Forgive me. I have so many reasons to be filled with an abundance of joy. Like Elijah’s cup at the seder, the joy should be flowing over the top of the cup.
All four of my children became “all five of my children” this year as we added Sagi, a son by marriage to our ranks. On the Sunday before Passover, our daughter Sarah and Sagi stood under the chuppah with Rabbi Craig Scheff officiating. For anyone who might have been second guessing attendance at a simcha on the last really great cleaning/preparation day before Pesach, Rabbi Scheff told us that celebrating the wedding was exactly the kind of Passover preparation we should be doing. The ruach of the wedding was an experience of simcha that no one in our families will ever forget, pouring joy into my cup.
My own preparations for Pesach were put into perspective with absolute clarity. I could not have angst and agita because there was simply no time. On Monday we were serving bagels to thirty out of town guests. On Friday, we were sitting down to our family seder. The lived-understanding that my best was good enough and that the seder is meant to be completely a time of rejoicing freed me from years of self-imposed rigor.
I have taught for years that we don’t need to be tortured in our Passover preparations. This year I walked my talk. The sense of freedom of the seder was another level of simcha poured into my cup.
It was a blessing to celebrate the first two days of Passover with such an abundance of old and new family, a blessing that I don’t take for granted.
Two wonderful seders, sunny days, lunches of matza lasagna with friends, long walks with my new machatenasta (Yiddish for mother of my son-in-law) enhanced the beauty of the chag. The sense of quiet contentment is another kind of simcha to add to my cup.
Still, as the holy day ended last night and the middle days of Pesach began, I felt the diminishment of my joy as one by one, the Drill children and members of the Fainshtain family started peeling away, leaving us with great memories and (forgive me) matzah crumbs. But here is where Jewish ritual came to the rescue, reminding me that given a choice between feelings of loss and feelings of gratitude, I can choose gratitude.
Last night we counted the second day of the Omer. As we continue on the calendar arc from Passover to Shavuot, from redemption to revelation, we count up, not down. Each day toward the holiday of Shavuot reminds us that we choose to make every day one of meaning, to make every day count. I can let go of the lessons learned about simcha or I can hold fast to joy by being grateful. Forgive me If I choose joy!
Moadim l’simcha! Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
That’s right, you read the title correctly. I am inviting you to not pray. Come to synagogue tomorrow morning, sit for an hour, or two, or three, and don’t pray. I am allowed to say that because, frankly, I have no idea what the English words “to pray” mean. The meaning of the words, I believe, will necessarily change depending on what is our definition of God. Implicit in the word “prayer” is some recognition that we are engaging in an effort to connect to something beyond ourselves, whether that something is above us, beyond us or within us. Are we asking for something, actually expecting a response? Are we seeking the granting of a wish? Are we hoping to gain a perspective that puts our lives into a context of something greater, thereby either maximizing or minimizing our significance, our achievements, or even our wrongdoings? Prayer is not necessarily an act of petition, supplication or thanksgiving. It may be all these things, it may be none of these things.
In our Siddur Lev Shalem, the new prayerbook published by the Rabbinical Assembly which we introduced to the congregation two weeks ago, the phrase Barukh Atah Adonai, commonly translated as “Praised are You, Lord,” is intentionally left untranslated. In the English text, the phrase appears simply as Barukh Atah Adonai. I love the affirmation of the idea that the words cannot be translated easily, if at all. How do we approach sacred purpose? How do we express shared values and shared search for meaning? How do we establish a space for safe vulnerability? How do we sing in gratitude for our freedom and in lament of those things that still enslave us? How do we find inspiration and comfort in the company of others who are as imperfect and broken as we are? That which we can’t translate into words is left to the service of the heart.
The beauty of our new siddur is found in its acknowledgment that there is no single way to pray. The book is an invitation to a dialogue with God, certainly, but it is also an invitation to meditation, to study, to quiet contemplation, to communal song. It is as modern, creative, and untraditional as we need our expression of faith to be. It is as ancient, as set and as traditional as we need our expression of faith to be. It is an invitation to explore our desire to connect emotionally, intellectually and socially to purpose, values, tradition, shared history and shared mission.
Jewish tefillah–self-examination–is time set aside from the mundane distractions in our lives. The siddur serves as the open doorway to that time–time for perspective, time for growth. Join us tomorrow morning for an hour or two or three. Join us for you. Join us to learn more about this new magnificent resource and our own personal searches for meaning. Join us to sing, learn, connect, and be. Join us, you know, to pray.
Rabbi Craig Scheff