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, and before we approach the simcha, the happiness and light of Succot; fundamental questions seem, to this author, the order of the day. These questions pick up where one’s personal kavanah (intent, concentration and understanding) regarding tefillah leave off.
Over the past 2 years on Succot, this author has asked the following questions: Are we collectively and systematically programmed for success or failure? Why have Shaliach Tzibborim seemingly drawn “a bye”, a free pass on “Rabbinic injunction” concerning correct, fluent pronounciation and not slurring or running-on words of tefillot, etc. during Chazarat HaShatz? And why are those given Aliyah honors seemingly exempted from Halachic rules concerning pronounciation of Baruch Attah Hashem and Melech HaOlam during Brachot over the Torah? Can any communal leader explain the rationale?
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, blunted and nipped in the bud by collective peer-pressure to conform to Kehilla-imposed time-limits at each step or section of tefillah? This author views these questions and 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. And to date, there have been no answers received, no answers received from Rabbanim, from communal leaders. Why?? Are they all sooo handcuffed, for fear for their jobs, for their branding, for their overseas donations, that they fear to back up their words with concrete actions by systemically imposing these type of changes? Are they as hen-pecked, handcuffed and powerless as when dealing with kannoi’yim, domestic abuse or the issue of religious smoking??
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,” those words are strong and powerful. But how does such mussar to the Kehal square with the speaker’s deeds — whether or not the speaker gives teeth to the words of mussar. And how does one reconcile the words of mussar with the compelling and disruptive pressure that the individual is made to feel to conform to systemic Kehillah-imposed norms such as “the 6 minute rule” for Shemoneh Esrei, lest his personal concentration be totally shot by the Chazan’s repetition?
And if stam individuals suffer the continual conflict of the mortal 6 minute race with the Shaliach Tzibbor to Chazarat HaShatz, 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 in order to be ready to ascend to the Duchan by the Bracha of Retzei.
One could go on and on as to the contradictions in spirit inherent in unrealistic Kehilla-imposed systemic 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 or 12 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).
And one could add to all of the above contradictions in spirit inherent in break-neck speed tefillot with this: the unthinking, uncognizant tendencies of those receiving aliyot and Ba’al Ko’reas which could result in damage to a Sefer Torah and substantial monies to the kehillot in repair costs. A Ba’al Ko’rea, or one receiving an aliya should, must have the presence of mind to know where he is, and what he is doing and thus not gruffly rub the letters of the Sefer Torah as he kisses it with his tallit at the beginning and end of the reading of his aliyah. This author sees the proper, respectful way as barely touching the sefer on the letters or to touch the back of the Sefer which rolls into the written part. And the Ba’al Ko’rea ought not to shove the rolled sefer onto one’s hand as the individual is kissing the Sefer with his tallit at the conclusion of his aliyah.
Finally, and still the “piece d’resistance”, the less than 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) — again very strong and powerful stuff. But are all of the spoken and written words empty and devoid of content vs the “system”, which the Shaliach Tzibbor is bound by conformance with, which mandates blowing through Aleinu as if shot from a rocket, and this author has written at length on this — as if the B’nai Yisrael:
“… fled from the mountain of G’d like a child running away from school.” (Rabbi Artscroll mentions a Ramban on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 10, posukim 35-36)
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 given even a moment’s thought to what these systemic time-limits do to the Ba’al Teshuvah’s psyche? For the Ba’al Teshuvah, more often than not, it is 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 b’tzibbor” (burden for the Kehal) noise. 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 were/are collectively 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 with more realistic, all-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 that our short-comings in tefillah are continuous, built-in to the system and are directly attributable to not receiving what we seek and denial to our brother of 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 thinking and 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.
One 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 at least 2 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.
One Shul in Israel attempted make a start toward a more Halachic and meaningful Tefillah on Erev Yom Kippur, the last Maariv of the year. But one cannot help but wonder whether making a separate, special Maariv minyan, shunting it off to the Vatikan room — rather than having it in the main Beit Medrash, and making a different time for it, separate from the Shul’s normal Maariv time, would be seen in Shemayim as a sincere effort at collective improvement in tefillah or whether it would constitute, as Rush Limbaugh would say, “symbolism over substance.”
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 it be that there be root changes made to davening systems in B’nai Yisrael such that this author would not again feel the need, the necessity of repeating such questions!
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 — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May 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; “Ki Karov 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, sweet and prosperous 5772 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.