Having emerged from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and, hopefully we have all been inscribed and sealed for a happy, healthy, successful and meaningful year and years ahead, we find ourselves in the midst of Succot.
During Succot, the B’nai Yisrael, as an Am Segula (a nation apart and unique from the other nations), as Hashem’s special, chosen people, visit, bond, and celebrate our special and unique relationship with HaKodosh Borchu.
Prominent in our thoughts during Succot are the Haftorahs which the prophecy of the War of Gog and Magog, Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima (the Redemption) and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash are pronounced. Or, as the expression goes among baseball fans each springtime — right down to the fans of the most hapless MLB team; “Hope springs eternal.”
But before we can question what the relationship is between the War of Gog and Magog and the simanim of Succot: the Lulav, Etrog, Hadassim and Aravah, a more fundamental question needs to be asked. This question picks up where one’s personal kavanah (intent, concentration and understanding) regarding tefillah leaves off. Are we collectively and systematically programmed for success or failure?
One may well wonder what is meant here. Bluntly, and to the point: Is an individual’s spiritual growth as well as his bonding and kesher with Hashem systemically stifled, stymied and blunted by collective peer-pressure to conform to Kehilla-imposed time-limits at each step or section of tefillah? And this author views these thoughts as critically important to air, even now once we have passed Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, lest we begin to back-slide into the familiar patterns.
This author is NOT a Talmud chacham, but when Rabbanim urge their followers, the Kehillot to “slow down — you are standing before The Melech Echad, The Creator — pronounce the words of tefillah properly — understand what you are davening,” how does such mussar to the Kehal reconcile with the compelling and disruptive pressure that the individual feels to conform to Kehillah-imposed norms such as “the 6 minute rule” for Shemoneh Esrei, lest his personal concentration be totally shot upon the Chazan’s repetition?
And if stam individuals suffer this conflict continuously, imagine the extent of compelling and disruptive pressure felt by Kohanim who are Halachically compelled to be ready to have their hands washed at or shortly after conclusion of Kedusha and to be ready to ascend to the Duchan by the Bracha of Retzei. And the Kohen’s problems don’t end when ascends to pronounce Birkat Kohanim.
Recently, Rabbi Chaim Zev Malinowitz spoke out, in a Halacha shiur related to tefillah, that at the conclusion of Birkat Kohanim, when the Shaliach Tzibor leads the Kehillah in “Sim Shalom”, the Kohan is to be silently reciting the posukim of “Ribono Shel Olam” simultaneously with the Shaliach Tzibor.
These posukim of “Ribono Shel Olam” say, in short:
“Master of the World… bless your people, Israel, and the earth which you have given us — just as you have sworn to our fathers — a land that flows with milk and honey.” (Artscroll Siddur, page 700-701)
(To read the entire text of “Ribono Shel Olam”, check the above Artscroll source.)
Yet, the same Shaliach Tzibor who is subject to conforming to “the 6 minute rule” as to beginning the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei blows through Sim Shalom, as if chasing Seattle Slew for the Triple Crown, leaving the Kohen or Kohanim in a cloud of dust. The Kohen huffs and puffs but is unable to finish simultaneously with the Shaliach Tzibor and is still completing the “Ribono Shel Olam” posukim while the rest of the Kehillah is already in Tachanun.
One could go on and on as to the contradictions in spirit inherent in unrealistic Kehilla-imposed time limits at each stage of tefillah, i.e. the 5-10 minute fly-by of Korbonot: the oral recitation of the sacrifices which are offered when there is a Beit HaMikdash, the 10 minute Pesukei D’Zimrah which extends from
“Baruch Sh’Amar” — the praises of Hashem through the tefillot of thanks, through expressions of Hashem’s Glory, through Ashrei which praises Hashem and those who cleave to Him, through the Hallelukas and concluding with Shirat HaYam (the Song at the Sea) and the Yishtabach (the 15 expressions of Praise of and Blessing and Thanksgivings to Hashem).
Finally, the “piece d’resistance”, the 1 minute Aleinu. No kidding — I timed it myself. Rabbonim have spoken repeatedly about the Aleinu prayer and its’ significance: the Oneness of Hashem’s Kingship, the reasons for our most-favored nation status, Hashem’s eventual eradication of idolatry from the earth, that eventually the entire world, all of the nations will recognize and submit themselves to Hashem’s Malchut (Kingship).
If the individuals and the Kohanim of a typical Kehal are up against “the system” of time-restrictive tefillot in working to make their davening meaningful and in trying build their kesher with Hashem, imagine, just think — all of you FFB’s (Frum from Birth) — have you ever even given a moment’s thought to what these systemic time-limits do to the Ba’al Teshuvah’s psyche? For the Ba’al Teshuvah, it is more often than not about kavanah in merely pronouncing the words of tefillot correctly, let alone having sufficient time to think about and understand the meanings of the tefillot. And don’t give that old, well-worn “tierka for the Kehal” routine. It just doesn’t wash and seems coming from the same narrow, singular, me-first mindset which causes us to look after one’s own doorstep first and foremost, and to heck with the next guy — my Jewish brother. Ergo, we collectively were/are soo wrapped up in a me-first mindset that we let the evil regime evict 9,000 of our Jewish brethren. Chas V’Challila it could happen again unless the Kehal gives more thought to the needs of those who make up the Kehal, in short, starting more realistic, inclusive time structures for the various tefillot.
So we ponder why Moshiach has not yet appeared. And if, as we are told by our Rabbanim, that we must ask, pray to Hashem in order to receive, it seems likely our short-comings in tefillah are attributable to not receiving what we seek and denial to our brother the same opportunity to ask and receive, both on a personal and national level. In essence, it seems as if we have collectively been systemically programmed by “the system” to fail by virtue of time-restrictive prayer. Is a Kehilla capable of acting “out-of-the-box” and collectively revising or changing it’s long-engrained davening habits for the collective benefit of all of its members and for the national good? For it seems that just because an act conforms to current societal norms, it doesn’t endow that act as moral, ethical or in an acceptable spirit. And it seems that, just as Rifka had the inner strength to rise above the Levanite societal norms, it seems that the collective needs to break out of systemic unrealistic davening patterns, systems and time-limits.
A Kehilla need not start radically. Start with the least pressured tefillah of any day — Ma’ariv. Make the Ma’ariv Shemoneh Esrei 10-12 minutes in duration rather than what seems to be the standard 6 minutes. Slow down the Shaliach Tzibor’s Sim Shalom at each Shacharit and Mussaf davening enabling the Kohen to complete “Ribono Shel Olam” simultaneously with the Shaliach Tzibor and make recitation of Aleinu 2-3 minutes in length at each davening in recognition of the importance of the words. Periodically evaluate and refine the time structure of the collective tefillah.
And so we ponder the War of Gog and Magog:
“When Gog, all his army and all of the nations attack israel, even in a redemption ‘in haste,’ Israel will tremble with fear. Afterward, G’d will rise up and destroy the nations in the final redemption, as in the first one.” (“The Jewish Idea”, by Rabbi Meir Kahane, Z’l, Vol. 2, page 984)
“Our sages said (Tanchuma, Re’eh, 9); “…In the future, Gog and Magog will attack Israel, and they too will be burnt up with one fire, as it says, ‘I will punish him with pestilence,blood and torrential rain […fire and brimstone]. At that moment, I will magnify and sanctify Myself, and make Myself known to many nations.'” (Yecheskel, 38.22-23 in part, as quoted from”The Jewish Idea”, by Rabbi Meir Kahane, Z’l, Vol. 2, page 984)
May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem and that we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
L’Shana Tova, Chag Same’ach and Good Shabbos! — may all who read this be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, happy and prosperous 5770 and every year thereafter to at least 120!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.