Who burns her head lighting candles??? Seriously! Ok, Shabbat Shalom! I’m in Tsfat praying with a group of Jewish young adults at a spirituality/hiking/volunteering program called Livnot! Many of these Jews pray differently than I do. I’m torn between experimenting with new practices or sticking with the prayer I feel comfortable with. I don’t usually light Shabbat candles. I love saying the blessing with my congregation as a congregant lights them, but I haven’t had many experiences lighting them myself. I’m a rookie match lighter, but I see a bunch of girls lighting Shabbat candles, and I decide to light one.
I take the match and light the candle perfectly, and everything’s just dandy! But wait…it’s not over yet. I see girls putting their hands up to their heads and sort of covering their eyes which I’ve seen before, but I’ve never done myself. Why would I cover my face? Don’t I want to fully see the light? But this is a chance to be adventurous! This is a chance to try new things! I put my hands up to my head and OWWWWW OWWWWWW OWWWWWWWW I just burned my head because I accidentally pressed the match onto my forehead and didn’t exactly coordinate very well. Oops!
So yes, I think I might be the first woman in the world to burn my head while performing the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles! This is an example of the consequences of copying people’s prayer and conforming to the crowd without understanding the meaning behind the mitzvah, prayer, or action. It reminds me of when we say Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, and I go on my tippy-toes just like everybody else, but I have no idea why. On the other hand, in the K’dushah when we say, “Vkara zeh, el zeh Vamar” and people turn side to side, I do not turn side to side, and I remain still because I have no idea why they’re doing that, yet I have never asked anyone why or searched for more information. I need to start asking more questions and understanding different ways of prayer so that whether I do something or I don’t do something, I understand why.
Sometimes praying feels weird. Whenever we begin to chant the Amida, and then its time for independent or silent prayer I feel different. Everyone around me seems to be reading the prayers, bowing their heads passionately, whispering words, and owning their prayers. And all I want to do is close my siddur and talk to God. Can’t I just talk to God? Can’t I just thank god and vent to god and ask god questions? But there are prayers for a reason. I must be missing the boat. Maybe liturgy class will answer this because then I’ll actually know what these prayers mean! Too many times, I find myself muttering words not knowing what I’m saying or feeling like I’m just stealing words that do not belong to me. Sometimes my prayer feels fake, and I know that God must know I’m thinking about making quesadillas for lunch while saying the V’ahavta. This is awful! Sometimes I’m just so much more into the dialogue with God when I’m in control of my words and prayers. I want an honest conversation, which is why I’m in love with Hitbodadut where you have free-flowing out-loud dialogue with God. Sometimes I love the prayers and it feels beautiful to say the same prayers my ancestors have said thousands of years ago, but sometimes I want to break free and do my own thing with God. Most of the time I just close my siddur and speak with God silently while people finish their prayers. I love speaking to God and having a few moments of stream of consciousness, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing something, and if maybe there’s a way to do both. It seems like we don’t have enough time to do it all when we pray; the time goes by so fast!
This was definitely my best high holiday experience of my life! Before I became very passionate about Judaism in the last 2 years, I used to have so much difficulty sitting through services because I never knew what was going on, and I can’t sit still that long. It never felt active. The choir used to annoy me because they’d sing all these songs and it felt like a performance while the rest of us sat there zoning out and thinking about the delicious meal waiting for us at home.
This year I was in the choir. I was alert! I knew the songs, I knew the prayers, and I felt like part of the service as opposed to some girl staring at the clock and counting the hours in how many episodes of Law and Order it would take before I could finally shove bagels in my mouth.
I felt a beautiful sense of holiness when I said these prayers and sang these songs with such heart because I practiced them and felt like I had a relationship with each one. I felt like I was inspiring. Then I remembered how I used to view the choir as an exclusive band gracing us with their talent but not realizing that none of us understood a word they were saying. I looked into the eyes of congregants and wondered whether or not they felt inspired and moved, or if they were just counting down the hours until they didn’t have to listen to me anymore. Now that I’m entering the path toward being a rabbi, I realize that I’m going to start knowing what things mean and feeling more comfortable with the liturgy. But I never want to forget what it feels like to be the bored congregant who feels like he/she knows nothing because that’s such a real experience for so many Jews in this world. Congregants needs to feel they have a role, their prayer should feel just as meaningful as the clergy or the choir. It’s not a show, and it’s not a hierarchy, we’re all just praying together. I’m also wondering what it’s going to be like to pray as a rabbi. I don’t want to be so focused on how I’m viewed by my congregation or how I’m doing my job that I’m not praying meaningfully because I’m too distracted. I won’t be inspired by a beautiful sermon, I’ll be giving it. Going to services will be part of my job, whereas in the last 2 years going to services has been a break or escape from my job. I wonder how it will feel, but I couldn’t be more excited, and I know it will be quite the journey.