Kavvanot (Points to Consider) For A Meaningful Yom Kippur Prayer – Rabbi Barry Gelman

September 27, 2009

I know this is not my regular posting day but I wanted to make some Kavanot 0 prayer enhancers available before Yom Kippur.

Gmar Tov,

 Barry

 

 

Kavvanot (Points to Consider) For A Meaningful Yom Kippur Prayer

The Yom Kippur davening is challenging in that it is very busy ,full of choreography and very long.

Some find it difficult to focus and create moments of quiet introspection.

Do not feel rushed to keep up. It is more important to internalize the prayers.

The Yom Kippur Mussaf is an amalgam of prayers with High Holiday themes as well as recreations of the Temple service, mourning dirges and the account of the Ten Martyrs.

Use this guide during the silent Mussaf Amidah or the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah to help you focus on the prayer themes.  Various sections of Mussaf will be briefly described followed by some questions to help us focus on each theme.

Instead of talking to your neighbor when the service starts to feel too heavy, use this sheet to redirect your thoughts.

Fasting:

Did you ever wonder why we are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur? How can fasting help us return to God? The Torah considers the Yom Kippur fast an act of affliction. One the one fasting makes perfect sense. A day on which we are judged is hardly a day on which to be concerned with food.

Perhaps we can consider the idea of self denial a positive spiritual practice. On Yom Kippur fasting reminds us that it is very often the material aspects of our lives and the need to supply them (like food and shelter) that take us away from spiritual pursuits. On Yom Kippur we are told not to worry about food and we find outselves under the protection of the synagogues. With our basic needs either cared for or removed we can focus on spirituality.

Fasting may also remind us that we have the capacity to survive with far less than we usually have.

 

Ask yourself:

  • How does fasting help me attain a deeper spirituality on Yom Kippur?
  • Would Yom Kippur “work” the same if we were allowed to eat? If not, what added benefit does fasting bring?

 

Mussaf Amidah

 

Seder Ha-Avodah (Description of the Temple Service)

We recite or even re-enact the temple service that cannot be performed today because of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. It is not really a prayer, but rather a detailed description, in poetic terms  of what used to happen in the Temple.

 

What purpose does the Seder Ha-Avodah serve?

  • To keep alive the ancient tradition in a vivid way
  • To reassure us that even in the absence of the Temple service we can achieve forgiveness and closeness to God
  • Create a longing for the Beit HaMikdash.

The seder ha-avodah is introduced with a magnificent prologue  – essentially a brief summary of Jewish History from creation to the Temple service.

There is heavy concentration on God’s interaction with and direction of the world in the prologue. Perhaps this is to indicate the cosmic importance of the Avodah.  Consider the “path” of the prologue: descent to sin thought Adam and Chavah, Cain and the generation of the flood and the subsequent ascent from Noach to Avraham to Yaakov and his sons – from whom came Levi, eventually entrusted with the service of the Beit Hamikdash.

 

Ask Yourself:

  • Has the progress of the spirituality  expressed in the prologue continued? Do we live in an age where people feel connected to God? Do I feel connected to God? If not, why not?

 

Rabbi Solovetichik defined spirituality as: “the descent of divinity into the midst of the concrete world.” Perhaps the recitation of the Temple service is supposed to give us a chance to relive the divine descent as the Yom Kippur service represented the pinnacle of divine revelation as the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies.

 

Ask Yourself:

  • How can I experience the Divine descent?
    • Choose one area in life that you will work on this year in order to be more God aware.

The section of the Temple service ends on a celebratory note when we say: “True – how majestic was the Kohen Gadol as he left the Holy of Holies in peace, without injury. “

“Why The Happiness in reciting  the end of the Temple service? Why was it sung with such a happy tune? The answer is that the Kohen Gadol reflected the radiance of God. Throught witnessing the radiant appearance of the Kohen Gadol, there could be no doubt of God’s acceptance of the prayers of the children of Israel” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik).

 

Ask yourself:

  • Who in my life helps me feel like I am in the presence of God? What experiences have I had where I truly felt like I was in God’s presence? How can I recreate those moments?

 

The Ten Martyrs

Immediately after the joy of reciting the Avodah, we recite mourning dirges. “Suddenly Yom Kippur is transformed in to the Ninth of Av, the morning reaching its most intense point when we read of the ten martyrs.

 

What role do these dirges play on Yom Kippur?

  • Perhaps we are pleading to God: “We have suffered enough. Put an end to our torments and tormentors. Show mercy not only by forgiving us but by bring complete redemption.
  • We remind ourselves of a sin not listed in the long list of “al chet” – the admission that our sins have extended the state of the destruction and delayed redemption.

 

Ask Yourself

  • How does the contrast of the joy and the mourning enhance our prayer experience? What does it take to fully appreciate what we had and what we lost? How can I be more appreciative this year of the people and blessings in my life?

“The startling contrast of the joy of the avodah recitation and the pain evoked by reciting the mourning dirges immediately following serve a basic cognitive purpose. In order to truly feel a loss, a person must internalize two key points:  1) how wonderful life was before the loss and 2) hoe terrible life is after the loss. In the words of Jeremiah: “Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old” (Eicha 1:7). (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik)

Ten Martyrs: What Are You Willing To Die For?

The inclusion of the Ten Martyrs in the Yom Kipur prayers is noteworthy. Why is it included and whay it is supposed to add to our prayer experience? Perhaps the inclusion of the Ten Martyrs is supposed to help us focus on what is really important in life by compelling us to ask ourselves: asking: What are we willing to die for? These sages were willing to give their lives for Torah and Jewish life. What are our ultimate values?

Perhaps we are asked to judge what is really important in life by the answer to the question of what are we willing to die for.

Is there anyone who would willingly sacrifice his life for wealth? Or honor? For a high position? On the contrary: We would readily give up all this in order to buy health… On the other hand, are there not mothers who would sacrifice even their own lives for the life of their children? Aren’t there many who would die for freedom and peace?

Ask yourself:

What are my ultimate values? How are they similar or different to those of the ten martyrs?


Hearing the Divine –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

August 14, 2009

This week’s Torah portion Re’eh-“See” begins “See I place before you today blessing and curse, the blessing that you will listen to the Mitzvot….”  The Midrah on these verses quotes the two additional verses to bring to bear on our portion, “The mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light” and “The human soul is the candle of God.”   The human’s candle is the Mitzvah and God’s candle is the human soul.   What is this reciprocity?

The Sefat Emet, Rabi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger writes on this Midrash that in everything physical there is a Divine life force from the Source of Life.  (Indeed as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes in the Sha’ar Ha’yichud V’haemunah, without this Divine life force nothing would exist.  The state of non-existence is the status quo, therefor it takes a life force from the Divine to give all things, even inanimate objects, a “soul” which gives them existence.)

Rabbi Yehudah Leib continues to explain that our job is to raise up these Divine sparks of Divine life force that are hidden in all physicality, which we do through Mitzvot.  God’s candle is the human soul means that God’s light is dependent upon us to liberate it from its hiding place within the physical, in this way God and God’s light is “dependant” upon us.

He writes that the blessing and curse the Torah speaks of at the beginning of our parsha is not a reciprocal reward and punishment, rather the inner point of Divine light in all things is itself the blessing that the Torah refers to that we will “hear” and “see” when we “listen to the mitzvoth.”

Similarly regarding Shabbat the Torah writes, and God “blessed” the Shabbat.  This notion of blessing regarding Shabbat is said in the same vain as what we have explained.  The Shabbat is (the most) conducive time in which to become aware of the inner Divine in all things.   On Shabbat just eating, just having pleasure is holy and can reveal the Divine life force in what we enjoy.  Not to separate ourselves from the world but to utilize it so we can hear the divine in all things, this is our mission on earth.  Shabbat Shalom.


Takes Many Spiritual Tools to Connect to an Infinite God –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

July 10, 2009

On Prayer and Meditation

My first post on Morethodoxy, entitled “Openness and Passion,” outlined what I perceive to be an important process in living the Torah, being able to adopt the strengths one finds in each community and in the so many different approaches to mitzvoth and Torah, even if they are not our own primary practice. Custom is a powerful thing in Judaism, but sometimes stolidness can be spiritually detrimental.

I think that for many people, Jewish and not, prayer has become a recitation of words.   Several frum (observant) people who take davening (prayer) seriously have commented to me, “I like learning Torah and find it meaningful, but I just can’t relate, beyond the level of fulfilling an obligation, to tefilah (prayer).”

The Talmud (Berachot 32b) tells us that the Chasidim Harishonim, the Ancient Pious Ones, used to wait an hour before prayer (to prepare), pray for an hour, and take an hour after prayer (to recover?;  to return to this world?). They did it three times a day, and in fact the Talmud says we are obligated to do this also.

This prayer system does not sound like ours.  We rush in, pray to fulfill our obligation, perhaps concentrate a bit on its meaning and before whom we are praying, and finish.   It does not take us an hour to prepare or in fact any time to come down.  I am not, God forbid, criticizing the many Jews who are sincere about prayer and make great sacrifices to pray with a minyan at correct times or on their own.  I am no expert at or Tzadik in regard to prayer.  But I think that the Talmud’s ancient method of prayer may have been entirely unlike ours.

I imagine a prayer that takes an hour of preparation and an hour to come back is one that is highly meditative.  Kavvanah, the intent that is required in Jewish prayer, is sometimes understood as just understanding what the words mean or knowing that one is standing before the Almightily, but I think the Talmud here is offering us an important tool that reaches beyond the standard level of kavvanah in Jewish law.  Perhaps prayer is not supposed to be just saying words.  Perhaps prayer and the kavvanah that was seen in the time of the Talmud, as a prerequisite for prayer (one did not pray for three days after traveling according to the Talmud since we might lack concentration, Aruvin 65a), is something much more.

Judaism contains many spiritual tools that are often ignored if they are not part of our own personal or community’s customary practice.   There is a tradition of meditation in Judaism.  Clearly when it comes to prayer there was something deeper going in the Talmud that we have lost.  Even latter in Jewish history we have for instance Rav Nachman of Breslov’s instructions regarding prayer and meditation.  That one should go to the forest, preferably at night, and there speak to God in one’s own words (Torah 52).

I think we must reclaim some of Judaism’s spiritual tools.   In the Orthodox community we sometimes, in our punctiliousness, (and probably in reaction to Reform Judaism) allow the ma’aseh hamitzvah (the act of performing the mitzvah) to overshadow the inner kavvanah (intent), and the perhaps the telos of the mitzvah -connecting with God.

Let us be open to taking a closer look at the spiritual tools that exist within Judaism, even if they are not our own or those of our immediate community or custom; even if they feel foreign.  I would even suggest that sometimes there are Jewish spiritual tools that have become inaccessible or lost to us, such as meditation, and that it may take learning them in a non-Jewish context that has cultivated them well, in order to readapt them into Judaism.