Gaining Comfort with Shabbat Liturgy

on Wednesday, 01 September 2010. Posted in Rabbi Marshall's Articles

The ORacle, September 2010 Issue

“Be diligent in study. To learn below your potential is a betrayal of self and an insult to life.” --Rabbi Judah

This season of reflection and introspection coincided perfectly with the opportunity to generate professional goals for myself as I evaluate my past year at Temple Beth Or. One initiative upon which I will focus in the coming year is liturgical knowledge.

Many of today’s Jews are dependent on others to translate Judaism for them. I want to provide ways for each of us to deepen our comfort and knowledge at services. Beginning in October, there will be two new monthly services.   On the third week of the month, we will offer a Learner’s Service. This will be an opportunity to focus on one aspect of the service liturgy by delving into the historical background and meaning behind the prayers. I want us to be able to understand the words we pray, to know the historical polemics behind the Hebrew, or to consider how to make piece with problematic prayer themes.

On the fourth week of the month, we will offer a monthly Kabbalat Shabbat service. This is the welcoming of Shabbat, consisting of the 7 psalms (representing each day of the week) leading up to Ma’ariv, our evening service. I want us to understand the background of these psalms, the Kabbalat Shabbat traditions, and the beautiful melodies that accompany them.

During my first year of rabbinical school in Jerusalem, I routinely attended more traditional services (completely in Hebrew and using a more complete liturgy). My initial experience was one of discomfort and alienation. I was not used to this type of prayer experience. Where were the camp songs I loved? Why was I not familiar with much of the Hebrew? But after a few times, the words and melodies became more familiar. And now, my most powerful Shabbat experiences occur within a more traditional service. My sense of wholeness comes from immersing myself fully in the Hebrew and singing a full Kabbalat Shabbat service.

I share this to emphasize that we need to be patient with ourselves and allow ourselves time to get used to the Hebrew words and new melodies. I will be presenting new material in very small pieces so that it is not overwhelming. Hopefully these two learning opportunities will allow us to feel more comfortable liturgically and provide us with the resources to find added meaning through prayer.

Shanah Tovah, a happy New Year to all of you.