Sign In Forgot Password

Yom Kippur

11/03/2019 11:02:28 AM

Nov3

Rabbi Marcia Plumb


Like last night, I have a personal question for you.   There is no judgement when you answer.  How many of you would say that you pray?   How many of you believe the prayers you say in the mahzor?  How many of you don’t really understand the prayers we say?  How many of you are glad we pray in Hebrew bc if we prayed in English, we wouldn’t like or believe what we said?

Today, we spend a lot of time reading prayers.  What is the role of all these words?  Yes, they convey High Holy Day themes of forgiveness, repentance, and hope. But do they work?  At the end of the day, will the prayers transport us to a new world and a new soul?  Or will we simply listen, read them, and count the pages to see how many more we have to sit through?  And then, we leave them behind when we leave the shul.   How can they be lifted off the page to be part of the way we see the world?  Prayer is not meant to reside in shul, or in prayerbooks.   Prayers are meant to provide the oxygen for the soul.  They live within us. They are part of the toolbox we use to find strength to make it through the day and the challenges and joys of life.  
Abraham Joshua Heschel says: Prayer must not be dissonant with the rest of living.
The divorce of liturgy and living, of prayer and practice, is more than a scandal; it is a disaster.


We often think of prayer as directed outward, toward God.  But Part of prayer is to help us check in with ourselves.  The Hebrew word for prayer is lhitpalel—to go inward, to reflect.  It is like taking our spiritual blood pressure.  How are we?  What is the state of our souls?  Are we feeling broken, afraid, content, or uneasy—what do we need to help us find balance and wholeness?  Today, in our services, we have a lot of silence and many prayers designed to help us judge where we are on the path of righteousness, honesty and right living.  Are we on track or do we need to adjust course?  Prayer is our internal spiritual check-up. As Rabbi Heschel says, ‘Prayer clarifies our hopes and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the pangs we ignore, the longings we forget.’  

Prayer teaches us what to aspire for. So often we do not know what to cling to. We cannot put our trust in our democracy, our institutions, our economic system of capitalism—what will we lean on? Prayer implants in us the ideals we ought to cherish. 


Rabbi Heschel wrote something about prayer that has stayed with me:  Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.


Last night I talked about my faith in God and how much it has helped me with the stresses in our country over the past year.  Today, I’d like to share how prayer has helped me rise above fear and anxiety.  There are several prayers from the siddur that I use throughout the day.  I’d like to briefly share 7 of these prayers that I weave into my days and my life,  and perhaps they will be helpful for you.  I look forward to hearing which prayers you turn to that support you.  
The prayers I usually weave into my day are mostly in Hebrew.  But God doesn’t care what language you use.  God knows all languages.  The Holy One likes English as well as Hebrew. 


I begin my day with Modeh Ani lefanecha, melech hai v’kayam.  Thank you Holy One, of Life, who has restored my soul to me, .  Traditionally, this prayer is said the minute we become aware that our dreams are ending and we are awakening into a new day.  In bed, as our awareness of the day begins, even when our eyes are still closed, we say Modeh Ani, Thank you God for giving me back my life—for rebirthing me and giving me new life today.  
With this prayer, I start the day with gratitude—even before my day has begun.  The awareness of life is the awareness of gratitude.  On the days when I forget, or jump out of bed quickly, I can tell the difference.  I am less centered, less optimistic.  Gratitude and the Modeh Ani prayer open me to miracles. 
Another prayer also brings gratitude.  It is not really a prayer—more of a blessing, but I say it often during the day.  It is the Shecheyanu, which praises God for bringing us to this moment in time.  Traditionally , we say the Shechehiyanu whenever something new happens, or when we buy something new, or celebrate an event that comes around once a year like a birthday.    Because of this prayer I find deep gratitude.  

In the same section of the service as Modeh Ani, the beginning of Shacharit, the morning service, is the second prayer I love.  Elohai Neshamah,she’netata bi, t’hora he,  the prayer that reminds us that God breathes our souls back into us every day.  According to tradition, God takes our souls at night, recharges them, and breathes them back into us, restored, and whole every morning.  This prayer reminds me that everyday, today, is a brand new day.  Whatever happened yesterday, whether good or bad, it is over.  Today is a new start.  I can shape the day and myself in whatever I choose.  
This prayer also tells us that God gave us a pure soul that is at our core.  No matter what we do, how badly we behave, how much shame we carry, underneath it all, is our pure and precious soul.  This prayer acts as a well for me—the words are like a bucket that I dip down through the layers of disappointment, regrets, joys and sins, that will eventually help me reach the clear refreshing waters of my soul.  I chant the prayer, and word by word, I descend into the beautiful soul God gave me, and, by the end of the prayer, I am drinking deeply of the metaphoric waters.   By reciting this prayer at the beginning of the day, I am able to hold onto the goodness within me, and believe in my ability to make good choices, throughout the day.   
Because of this prayer, I remember that I am holy.


The next set of prayers that I find essential are often called the Blessings for the day. You can find them on page 37 of the mahzor.  I am going to lead us in the way I use these blessings. I pray them all, but when I am finished chanting them, I go back and focus on the one I need the most that day.  For example, on days when I have complicated plans or an intense day ahead, I choose to focus on the blessing that asks God to strengthen the people Israel, to strengthen me, with courage.  On days, when I have to make a choice in a difficult situation, I meditate on the blessing that asks God to help us distinguish between day and night, to help me make distinctions when I need to.   On days when I feel loss or envy, the blessing that declares that God has given me all I need is profoundly comforting.  I may not have everything I want, but I have all I need to live a good and happy life.  
Because of these blessings,  I remember I can achieve anything

I ask you to turn to them, now, in silence, and glance through them, and choose one of them in the series that you feel you need most today, that most resonates with you today, that you could take with you, return to, and draw support from through the day today.  I’ll give you a moment to see if there is one that calls out to you.  I don’t expect you to share your blessing—I simply hope you find one for yourself.  

.  
The third prayer is one that I often pray after a challenging conversation, or a time when I don’t feel successful. It is the Ahavah Rabbah, the prayer before the Shema in the morning service.   Ahavah Rabbah means, Great Love, and the prayer talks about how God loves us with a Great Love.  It is like a love poem that God writes to each of us every day, reminding us that our Divine Parent loves us deeply, unconditionally, no matter what.  What a powerful sentiment to bask in on days when we feel alone, or lost.  If you don’t believe that there is an external supernatural God that loves you, that’s ok.  The Ahavah Rabbah prayer is good for you too.  It reminds us that we are loved, by others, by family, by friends, even when we may not feel that love—it exists and is there when we are ready to receive it.  How wonderful to feel loved.  
Because of the Ahavah Rabbah prayer I remember that I am loved and worthy of being loved.  

Oseh Shalom comes next.  We all know that it asks for peace.  This prayer calls me to take responsibility to bring peace, not just wait for it.  When Moses was standing at the shores of the Red sea, with the Egyptians fast upon their trail, he cried out to God, saying do something.  God said, why are you crying to me?  You do something!  Lift your arms, lift your staff, and let’s see what happens next.  
The Oseh Shalom prayer is like that interaction for me.  I can’t sing it, hoping some external magical force will suddenly create peace among all peoples.  I don’t believe that God or the world works that way.  I am responsible for creating peace in whatever ways I can.  And So are you.  

++++One more word about the Oseh Shalom prayer.  You probably know the Oseh Shalom as Oseh Shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleynu, v’al kol yisrael, v’imru amen.  This means, in a shortened translation, bring peace to us and to Israel.   In our mahzor at the end of Oseh Shalom a few words are added—v’al kol yoshvei tevel.  Which means for all who dwell on earth.  In other words, the traditional Oseh Shalom asks for peace for us, and for Israel, but no one else.  This new addition enables us to pray for peace for all peoples and creatures, not just us.  I am much more comfortable hoping peace will come to all, rather than just asking for peace for the Jews.  The Oseh Shalom we often sing, with the melody written by Nava Tehila, ends with the words val kol yoshvei tevel.  +++++++


Oseh Shalom calls me to stand up and do what I can to l’asot shalom, to make peace in whatever ways I can. 

Prayer must inspire us to act.  It cannot simply comfort us, or help us celebrate.  Prayer is a voice of mercy,  a cry for justice,  a plea for gentleness. Rabbi Heschel said, ‘ Let the spirit of prayer dominate the world. Let the spirit of prayer interfere in the affairs of humankind. ]  Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.

I often think of this famous quote of Heschels when I leave shul on a Shabbat morning.  Has the service shaken me up enough, unsettled me enough, reminded me of my obligations as a citizen of this world?  Have the words we sang, the Torah we studied, the prayers we read, motivated us to act on them in the world?  Or have they simply prepared us for a nice Kiddush lunch?  
Because of Oseh Shalom, I remember that I am a maker of peace.  

The next prayer I find very powerful is the Mi sheberach, the prayer for healing.  We all need healing in some way or another—either physically or emotionally.  We all have wounds within us—some of them may never heal completely.  People often think they can only pray for healing for someone else.  But all prayer can be for us too.  
I used to lead special healing services in my synagogue in London.  They were very meaningful for those who came, including me.  But once, at the end of one of these services, a wise woman approached me and said, what does it mean to pray for healing for someone who will not get better.  It turned out her partner had MS and no expectation of improvement.   What good is a prayer for healing, when we know there is no cure and no hope of renewed physical health?  
Since that day, I have come to a new understanding of the prayer for healing.  Yes, a miraculous recovery would be wonderful for us and our loved ones.  But I am not expecting that when I pray.  I am asking for whatever healing will help us find calm, and strength to either fight our illness, or accept the path ahead.  I pray that we will be healed from suffering, angst and distress.  I ask for reconciliation with loved ones, and caring doctors and nurses, and loving support for those who are ill.  
Because of the prayer for healing, I remember that I will heal too.  

Finally, one of my favourite prayers from Yom Kippur is Salachti kidvarecha—Forgive me and I will be blessed. I love hearing it over and over today.  Salachti kidvarecha—the promise, the guarantee of forgiveness.  If God can forgive me, then perhaps I can forgive myself too.  Because of the prayer of forgiveness, I remember that I can forgive and be forgiven. 

I love and depend on the prayers I’ve shared with you today.  Through them we remember that we are grateful, we are holy, we can achieve anything, we are loved, we are peacemakers, we can heal and forgive. We can find the resiliency to make it through even the hardest times.  

But there is a problem with them.  At the end of the day, they are someone else’s words.  They were written by rabbis over a thousand years ago. We have made them meaningful to us….but they are still someone elses words from their experiences’.  

There was a child in the day school where I was the rabbi, in London who came up to me one day on the playground and said, ‘Rabbi, I don’t know how to pray.  Will you teach me how to pray?’  

Often we don’t know what to say, or who to say it too.  There is no magic formula. One of my favourite most significant prayers is simply—Help me.  Be with me.  That’s it.  Help me, be with me.  Sometimes I pray that over and over.  It requires no Hebrew, no extra knowledge, no commitment.   It is simply the prayer of my own heart breaking.  It is the cry of the Psalmist,  They are the words when I have no words.  

Today, on this day full of words of prayer, I invite you to look for and find the ones that seem written just for you.  Or perhaps there will be  blessings or a plea that you can make your own.  If you can’t find any that resonate with you, I invite you to sit in quiet, or let the music reach deep into your soul, as it does to mine, and touch and soothe the broken parts of us.   I invite you to ask for whatever you need today.  It doesn’t matter whether you think a Higher power is listening or not.  The prayers can be just for us—to give us hope, courage, integrity and comfort.   I hope you will find how good it is to wrap ourselves in prayer, spinning a deep softness of gratitude to God around all thoughts, enveloping ourselves in the silk of a song.  

Today, may we find the healing we need, gratitude, and love, and the inspiration we need to act for good in the world.  May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You.
Amen. 

 

 

A teaching before Oseh Shalom

One more word about the Oseh Shalom prayer.  You probably know the Oseh Shalom as Oseh Shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleynu, v’al kol yisrael, v’imru amen.  This means, in a shortened translation, bring peace to us and to Israel.   In our mahzor at the end of Oseh Shalom a few words are added—v’al kol yoshvei tevel.  Which means for all who dwell on earth.  In other words, the traditional Oseh Shalom asks for peace for us, and for Israel, but no one else.  This new addition enables us to pray for peace for all peoples and creatures, not just us.  I am much more comfortable hoping peace will come to all, rather than just asking for peace for the Jews.  The Oseh Shalom we often sing, with the melody written by Nava Tehila, ends with the words val kol yoshvei tevel.  

Sun, December 15 2019 17 Kislev 5780