Passover 5774 – I And No Other

Every year, when we read through the Haggadah at our Seders, the same sections seem to catch our attention year after year:  This is the bread of affliction; The Four Questions; The Four children; The Ten Plagues; Dayeinu.

But one of the most difficult parts of the haggadah to understand is the part that comes right in the middle.  We read a collection of four verses from chapter 26 of the Book of Deuteronomy.  They begin with Arami oved avi.  Translated either as “My ancestor was a wandering Aramean,” or “An Aramean persecuted my ancestor…”  The four verses are a concise summary of the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Their brevity is in fact the reason they were chosen.  Exodus chapter 12 would have been a much more detailed option, but it would have been too long.  The Deuteronomy text keeps it short and sweet.

The haggadah then proceeds to offer a phrase by phrase midrashic interpretation of each word and expression.  Usually, a more extensive passage is quoted from some other part of the Bible, with a short analysis of what it means.

The origins of the midrash that appears in our haggadah goes back to the second century in the Land of Israel, although significant portions were added and incorporated over the next thousand years.

It is hard for us to understand today because it takes significant unpacking to figure out what is going on.  So while we may pause in our seders to ask a question about an expression that seems strange or that grabs our attention, rarely do we spend too much time on it.

Of course, as a Rabbi, I get some post-Seder questions too.  I’d like to address a question that I was asked earlier this week.  It is a midrash that seems to contradict everything we know about the story of the Exodus.  Here is the passage as it appears in the Haggadah:

“‘Adonai brought us out of Egypt’ (Deut. 26:8) – not by an angel and not by a seraph and not by a messenger, but rather the Holy One of Blessing Himself.”

And then it quotes Exodus 12:12:

“As it says:  ‘I will pass through the Land of Egypt this very night and slay every first-born male in the Land of Egypt, from human to beast, and I will bring judment upon all the gods of Egypt, I, Adonai.'”

Then the haggadah gives its phrase by phrase interpretation of the Exodus passage:

“‘I will pass through the land of Egypt’ – I and not an angel (mal’akh).  ‘And slay every first-born male’ – I and not a seraph.  ‘I will bring judgment upon all the gods of Egypt’ – I and not the messenger (shaliach).  ‘I, Adonai’ – I am He, and none other.”

What is going on here?  The story of the Exodus is filled with angels and messengers doing God’s bidding.  Everybody knows this.

Who carried out the tenth plague, the killing of the first born?  The angel of death.  Look at Exodus 12:23, just a few verses later:

For when the Lord goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the Lord will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer (HaMashchit) enter and smite your home.

The haggadah is trying to get us to ignore vs. 23 in favor of vs. 12.  Is it God or the Angel of Death that executes the 10th plague?

And there is another problem as well.  If I were to ask you who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, what would you say?

Moses, of course.

Everybody knows this, so why does the haggadah make the point so emphatically that it was God directly who did these things?  “I and not a shaliach, a messenger.”  Here is Numbers 20:16:

We cried to the Lord and He heard our plea, va-yishlach mal’akh, and He sent a messenger, who freed us from Egypt

Why is Moses being dissed like this?

It is often pointed out that Moses’ name is not mentioned in the haggadah.  (Actually, it does appear once)  Why?  So that we would not come to worship Moses as a deity.  Come on!?

There is no explicit evidence that the rabbis were particularly concerned about this.  Yes, they occasionally tell us not to worship Moses, but they never polemicize against it.

On the contrary, our literature is filled with interpretations and midrashim that attribute extraordinary events to Moses.  He had a miraculous birth.  He came out circumcised.  We call him the greatest of the Prophets.  The Torah calls him the humblest of all men.  He is Moshe Rabeinu.  Moses our Teacher.  The teacher par excellence!

Do we really think that keeping his name out of the haggadah is going to prevent the deification of Moses?

There is another reason why this is not likely.  As I mentioned earlier, the haggadah is a composite document that developed and grew over a period of more than 1,000 years.  There is no consistent, unified purpose that links every element of the seder that we have today.  If Moses’ name is absent from the Haggadah, it is not by design.  We can speak of the intent of a specific passage in the haggadah, but not of the haggadah in its entirety.

This brings us back to our earlier question.  Why in this particular midrash is the role of Moses deemphasized?  What reason could there be to highlight God as the sole, direct Redeemer?

Like many other passages, it is a polemical midrash.  But a polemic against whom?

This passage is one of the earliest elements of the haggadah.  In the third century, Christianity had emerged, but had not yet fully separated from Judaism.  A Jew might go to pray in a synagogue, and then go pray in a Church, or vice versa – just in case.  It’s good to cover all your bases.

The early Church fathers hated this, and introduced all sorts of rules to discourage Christians from participating in Jewish practices.  The Rabbis felt the same.  They were particularly concerned with rooting out heretical beliefs among one’s people.

The Rabbis, by the way, felt this way about numerous sectarian Jewish groups.

By emphasizing that it was God who personally carried out the plagues, redeemed the Israelites, and brought them out of Egypt, the haggadah hints at a rejection of any other intermediary, or manifestation of the Divine Presence, i.e. Jesus.

The early Christian figure Origen of Alexandria and the leading Sage of the Palestinian Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan were embroiled in controversy over these kinds of theological issues at the same time that this midrash was likely composed.

So how do we feel about this passage now, in an age when we embrace interfaith cooperation?  What does it mean for us to have a polemical passage like this in the haggadah?

Another post-seder conversation this week had to do with the humanistic messages that are often included in seders today.  Contemporary haggadot tend to universalize the lessons of suffering, slavery, and freedom.

These are certainly important lessons, but as far as I know, every single element of the haggadah is there for particularist purposes.  The composers of the haggadah did not intend for Jews to think about examples of modern day slavery and discuss how we are obligated to bring freedom to those who lack it.  The  sixteenth century German Jews who introduced the idea of spilling wine out of our cups during the recitation of the ten plagues were not expressing sorrow at the suffering of the Egyptians.  Quite the opposite, they were praying that their contemporary enemies’ blood should also be shed.

Until the modern era, the innovators of the haggadah in every generation intended our gaze to be inward – towards our lives and our own people.  We are obligated to see ourselves personally in this story.  We are not obligated to insert others’ experiences into it.

The passage we’ve been discussing is an example of one polemic that was composed at a unique time in Jewish history, and represented the very real concerns of a community of Jews that saw its existence under threat.  We honor their experience, and their contribution to our tradition, by studying their words and trying to understand their lives.

But we also must remember another important phrase in the haggadah:  “And the more one talks about the Exodus from Egypt, behold, this is praiseworthy.”

So I think it is ok, and even encouraged, for us, here in the (make air quotes) “enlightened” 21st century, to be open to more universal lessons from our experience with slavery.  But let’s not be afraid to dive in to our texts to discover meanings and lessons that spoke in personal ways to earlier generations of our people.

Perhaps their struggles have a lesson for us too.


[Thanks to The Schechter Haggadah, by Dr. Joshua Kulp and Rabbi David Golinkin, and My People’s Passover Haggadah, edited by Lawrence A. Hoffman and David Arnow.]

Shabbat HaGadol 5774 – Becoming Elijah

Eliyahu Ha-navi

Eliyahu Ha-Tishbi

Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu ha-Gil’adi

Bimheira b’yameinu, yavo eileinu

Im mashiach ben David, im mashiach ben David.


Elijah the Prophet.

Elijah the Tishbite.

Elijah the Gileadite.

Speedily, in our days, may he come to us

with the Messiah, son of David.


We’ll be singing these words at the end of our meals in just a couple of days as we invite the biblical prophet Elijah to join us at our Seder for a drink.

When we actually read the stories about Elijah in the Bible, though, he seems like an unlikely drinking buddy.

Elijah lived in the ninth century, b.c.e., during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  Jezebel is a Pheonician princess who brings her worship of Baal with her.  Her devoted husband Ahab even builds a Temple where Israelites can worship the God of Israel and Baal side-by-side.

Elijah is not happy.  He challenges the four hundred fifty prophets of a Baal to a showdown on Mount Carmel, and invites all of Israel to watch.  It’s a great scene, one that always reminds me of a professional wrestling match.  In bombastic language, Elijah challenges the audience:  “How long will you keep hopping between two opnions?  If the Lord is God, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him.”  (I Kings 18:21)

The silence is deafening.

The four hundred fifty prophets set out their sacrifices and pray to their god to send fire down to consume them… and nothing happens.  Elijah taunts them:  “C’mon you guys.  Baal can’t hear you.  Maybe he’s asleep, or on a journey.  Shout louder.”  So they scream and shout, and gash themselves with knives.  Nothing happens.

Now it’s Elijah’s turn.  He sets out his sacrifices, and then turns on the fire hose.  He douses everything with water until it’s streaming in rivulets down the mountain.  Elijah then prays to God, and fire shoots down from heaven, consume the burnt offering in an instant.  The crowd goes wild.  At Elijah’s command, they slaughter the prophets of Baal.

Jezebel is not happy, so she puts a bounty on Elijah’s head.  Elijah flees to the South, arriving at Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Sinai, where he stays for forty days and forty nights and encounters God in the midst of a storm.  Sound familiar?

Elijah eventually returns to Israel, where he continues his prophesizing and miracle-working.  He takes on an apprentice named Elisha.  Before he leaves with his new master, Elisha wants to gives his mother and father a hug and say goodbye.  Elijah does not approve.

Elijah grows old, but he does not die.  Instead, a fiery chariot with flaming horses scoops him up and carries him off into the sky.  It’s the ninth century b.c.e. version of a Harley Davidson.

That’s Elijah.  He is not a patient prophet.  He is zealous for God, but does not relate well to people.  He sees the world in black and white.  You are either for God, or for Baal.  Elijah does not seem to understand that life is full of gray zones.

After his fiery exit into the heavens, legends about Elijah begin to emerge.

We hear of Elijah later on in the Bible from the prophet Malachi, in a passage that we read today in the conclusion of the Haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol.

Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord. He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.  (Malachi 3:23-24)

Elijah is said to not have died (one of only two biblical figures, the other being Enoch).  Instead, he is wandering the earth, waiting for the time when he can announce the coming of the Messiah and the redemption of the world.

Elijah is invoked at particular moments in Jewish life: at the Passover Seder; during Havdallah at the end of Shabbat; and at a brit milah.

The speech I give at a bris goes like this:  It is said that in every generation there is a potential messiah in hiding.  It could be this new baby, who holds in him the potential to redeem the world.  That is why we set aside a special chair for Elijah and invite him to the bris.  We want them to meet each other, just in case.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin offers a slightly darker interpretation.  Eliyahu’s presence at a brit milah is in fact a punishment.  Elijah in the Bible demonstrates little understanding of the relationship between parents and children.  He constantly complains to God that the people Israel have abandoned the covenant and turned to idol worship – every single person except for him.  And so, because of his excessive zeal, Elijah will have to stick around through the millenia.  Telushkin writes:

He who sees himself as the last Jews is fated to bear constant witness to the eternity of Israel, to be present when every male Jewish child enteres the covenant, and when every family celebrates the Seder… Elijah stands in a long line of despairing Jews who erroneously have prophesied the end of the Jewish people.  (Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy, pp. 257-258)

His eternal life is a kind of curse.  He has to wander the earth and wait, watching, always watching, bearing witness to humanity’s imperfections, to the inability of people to get along, to the ever-present divisions between parents and children.

This helps us understand Malachi’s prediction, that Elijah will be the one who brings about reconciliation between parents and children.  The prophet who would not allow his disciple and successor, Elisha, to say goodbye to his parents, will have to correct the misunderstanding and act with compassion to save humanity.  For the world to be redeemed, it is Elijah himself who must also be redeemed.

He is sentenced to be the great reconciler.  He is cursed, but it is a hopeful curse.

There is more to the legend of Elijah.  More folktales of Elijah exist than any other biblical figure.

He usually appears in disguise, his identity revealed only at the end.  He is often a beggar, dressed in rags, or else a kind and wise old man.  He tends to play one of several different roles.  He visits a downtrodden person or family whom he helps out through gifts, treasure, the granting of a child, and so on.  He often performs miracles.

Other times, he comes to teach a lesson of compassion by punishing the unjust, often a wealthy person, or a supposedly-wise Torah scholar.

There are also stories in which a particular Rabbi knows Elijah’s secret identity, and consults him on some matter relating to the readiness of humanity for redemption.  The answer is always the same.  We’re not ready yet.

Finally, there are times when Elijah shows up in shul on Yom Kippur to be the tenth person, the one to make the minyan.

In this way, Elijah is “the Jewish alter-ego, the symbol for the whole people; exiled and tortured, but alive and hopeful.”  (Gerson D. Cohen, Studies in the Variety of Rabbinic Cultures, p. 35)

So why does Elijah visit us during Passover?  We take it for granted that opening the door for Elijah is one of the central components of the Seder, but doesn’t it seem kind of odd?  Elijah does not play any role in the Passover story.  In fact, he was born about 300 years after it took place.  If we were going to pick somebody to visit us, I can think of better candidates:  Moses, Aaron, Miriam.

A midrash from the tenth century predicts that Elijah will appear on the eve of Passover.  (Exodus Rabbah 18:12)  It makes a certain sense.  The Exodus from Egypt is the prototype for every subsequent act of redemption.  It is not farfetched to imagine that the final redemption will occur on Passover.

The tradition of opening our doors and reciting the biblical verses beginning with Sh’fokh chamat’kha – “Pour out Your wrath,” most likely began in the Middle Ages, in the wake of the Crusades.  This is how the tradition goes:  After we have finished eating, we open the door and recite several biblical passages.  Here’s the first one:

Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You, upon the kingdoms that do not invoke Your name, for they have devoured Jacob and desolated his home.  (Psalms 79:6-7)

Some of us are a little uncomfortable with the violence of these words, and yet it is important to consider the context.  The Jews who first introduced this tradition into the Seder had experienced wave after wave of anti-Semitic pogroms and faced the constant threat of the blood libel.  Every year, around this time, there was a very real fear that a dead Christian baby would be planted on the doorstep of a Jewish home to incite the mob against the community.

For Jews to pray for God to punish their tormentors in times like these is understandable.  Even today, let’s acknowledge that there is terrible evil in the world.  Is it so unreasonable to recite these words asking God (not human beings mind you, but God) to bring the perpetrators of evil to justice?

Opening our doors is a symbolic act of faith.  To open the door is to trust that God will protect us, even though we expose the safety of our homes to the danger and uncertainty of an unpredicable world.  It is also a statement of faith in the ultimate redemption.

It is not surprising that traditions about Elijah came together with traditions of opening our doors and praying for redemption.  Folktales are told of Elijah as something of a Medieval superhero, coming to defend Jewish communities under attack by the blood libel.

Elijah’s Cup is the fifth cup of wine, the cup of future redemption that we do not drink, because the world, and we, are not yet ready.  By inviting Elijah to join our Seder to partake in that fifth cup, we express our hopes for the coming of the Messiah and the final redemption of the world.  When Elijah finally comes to drink that cup, we will be able to join him.  Then he will make a great drinking buddy.

On the other hand. perhaps we ought not take our invitation for Elijah to join us quite so literally.

Menahem Mendel of Kotzk, the great Hassidic Rebbe of the early 19th century, warned that “we err if we believe that Elijah the Prophet comes through the door.  Rather, he must enter through our hearts and souls.”  (Yitzhak Sender, The Commentator’s Pesach, p. 220)

There is a nice custom that has developed in recent years.  Just before we open the door for Elijah, we pass around his empty cup.  Each person at the table then pours a little bit of wine (or grape juice) from his or her own cup.  It symbolizes that we all have a role to play.  To fill up the fifth cup, the cup of future redemption, will require the combined contributions of every one of us.

To illustrate this, I’ll end with a story of Elijah told in Hassidic circles.  (from Aharon Wiener, The Prophet Elijah in the Development of Judaism, p. 139)

A pious and wealthy Jew asked his rabbi, “For about forty years I have opened the door for Elijah every Seder night waiting for him to come, but he never does.  What is the reason?”

The rabbi answered, “In your neighborhood there lives a very poor family with many children.  Call on the man and propose to him that you and your family celebrate the next Passover in his house, and for this purpose provide him and his whole family with everything necessary for the eight Passover days.  Then on the Seder night Elijah will certainly come.”

The man did as the rabbi told him, but after Passover he came to the rabbi and claimed that again he had waited in vain for Elijah.

The rabbi answered: “I know very well that Elijah came on the Seder night to the house of your poor neighbor.  But of course you could not see him.”

And the rabbi held a mirror before the face of the man and said, “Look, this was Elijah’s face that night.”

When we open our doors to invite Elijah to our Seders this year to herald our redemption, may we merit to see his face reflected in ourselves.


(Many of the ideas and sources for this D’var Torah are from David Arnow’s Creating Lively Passover Seders, pp. 301-315.)

Building Our Singing Community

The most profoundly meaningful moment of prayer in my life occurred on the day that I did not get in to Rabbinical School.

Growing up, I was about as involved in my childhood Conservative synagogue as you could be.  I was a leader in USY.  I was first a teacher’s assistant and then a full teacher in the Religious School.  I came to services just about every Shabbat throughout middle school and high school.

So naturally, everybody who knew me, from the members of the congregation, to the Rabbi, to my non-Jewish public high school teachers, told me that I should become a Rabbi.

While I was a well-behaved teen-ager, I still wasn’t about to do what a bunch of adults told me to do, so I did not give it too much thought.

As I went through university, however, I stayed Jewishly connected, and by the time I graduated, becoming a Rabbi had become a very real possibility.  I spent a couple of years working outside of the Jewish world, just to be sure, and that helped me make my decision.  It was now time to apply.  And this is where I made my big mistake.

I believed what everybody had been telling me.

I figured I was a shoe-in, but I did not really understand what I was in for.

There is a legend about rabbinical school entrance interviews at the Jewish Theological Seminary.  The stories go like this:  There is a panel of 6-7 esteemed professors and Rabbis sitting around a table, with the candidate alone on one side.  The table is glass.  At some point they offer the candidate a glass of water and watch to see whether or not he or she recites a blessing before drinking.  They ask the candidate what the current date is on the Hebrew calendar.  And so on.

The Seminary was under renovations at the time of my interview, so I didn’t experience the glass table, the water, or the calendar question.  I was asked about faith and practice.  What do I believe about the origins of Torah, and how are my actions expressions of that belief?

These are certainly important questions about religious authenticity for a prospective rabbinical student, but I had never considered them for myself, and certainly did not have the language to discuss the matter.  I totally bombed the interview.

A certain member of my interview committee was not pleased, and he let me know it in no uncertain terms – so much so that the Dean of the Rabbinical School, Rabbi Alan Kensky, had to intervene and gently tell him to back off.

I was allowed to attend a preparatory program, but I would have to re-interview at the end of the year to begin Rabbinical School.

That experience was crushing to me.  At the time it felt terrible, but in retrospect it was one of the most important experiences in my religious life.

All of this took place on a Friday.  Shabbat was beginning that night.  I didn’t have any close friends in New York City at the time, so I walked by myself to a modern Orthodox synagogue on 110th Street, Congregation Ramat Orah.

My ego having been deflated that morning, there was an empty space in my heart that night for true prayer.

I still remember it.  The wooden-pew lined sanctuary was packed with people who were all strangers to me.  Chandaliers hung from a tall ceiling, lighting the room with a warm glow.  And everyone sang.  I still remember the melody for L’cha Dodi.  It was slow.  It took a really long time.  And it was perfect.

In one of the rare true-prayer experiences of my life, my usual barriers were stripped away.  I was vulnerable.  My emotional state, combined with an atmosphere in which it felt safe to let go, provided an opportunity to pray to God in an honest way.  To recite words which were familiar, but infused with kavanah that could only come from a place of brokenness.

Those moments have been rare in my life.  I suspect that moments like this are rare for many of us.

Last Shabbat, our community had a unique prayer experience.  Joey Weisenberg, a musician and ba’al tefilah, prayer leader, introduced us to the idea of building a singing community.

While Joey spent some of his time with us talking about what makes prayer “work,” the most profound lessons came when we experienced it first hand.

I learned a few things last weekend:

1.  We can sound really good.  [Listen to this brief recording of our pre-Kabbalat Shabbat session]

2.  The physical space in which we are praying matters.  Singing in the chapel, close together, is very different than singing in the sanctuary when we are spread much further apart.  The acoustics of the social hall, with its sound dampening ceiling tiles and carpet, is radically different than the reflective tile and glass surfaces of the foyer.

3.  How we are configured matters even more.  To be a singing community, people have to hear and see each other.  It is hard to do when we are far apart.  It is easy when we are close together – and as we found out when we crammed together around the podium, that means really close.

4.  The melody is secondary to all of these other factors.  When we came together in the center of the room and sang the exact same niggun as when we were spread out to the edges, people were brought to tears.

And finally, the last point, which is the most crucial of all:

5.  To build a singing community, the members of the congregation are at least as important as the person leading it.

That means that it is up to all of us.  If we want to continue our transformation into the singing community that we experienced last Shabbat, we have to do things differently than we have been doing them.  We have to break patterns.  We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  I promise:  It will be uncomfortable.

But isn’t that kind of the point?

So many of our people say that they don’t find services to be spiritually meaningful.  American Jews report that they are more likely to feel God’s presence in the woods than in a synagogue.  If that’s the case, then we are doing something wrong.  Where else should a Jew expect to find God than in a synagogue?

Listen to these words describing the synagogue in America:

Services are conducted with dignity and precision.  The rendition of the liturgy is smooth.  Everything is present: decorum, voice, ceremony.  But one thing is missing: Life.  One knows in advance what will ensue.  There will be no surprise, no adventure of the soul; there will be no sudden outburst of devotion.  Nothing is going to happen to the soul.  Nothing unpredictable must happen to the person who prays.  He will attain no insight into the words he reads; he will attain no new perspective for the life he lives.  Our motto is monotony.  The fire has gone out of our worship.  It is cold, stiff, and dead.  True, things are happening, of course, not within prayer, but within the administration of the temples…

When do you think this was written?

Abraham Joshua Heschel delivered these words to Conservative Rabbis at the 1953 Rabbincal Assembly Convention.  He later incorporated them into his beautiful book on prayer, Man’s Quest for God.  (pp. 49 – 50)  In it, he offers a poignant critique on Jewish worship that is as relevant today as it was then.

But don’t conclude that the problem lies in the rote nature of the prayer itself.  Don’t assume that by changing the words of the siddur and introding flashy innovations, we will suddenly be able to feel something when we pray and have real kavanah.  Heschel suggests otherwise:

The problem is not how to revitalize prayer; the problem is how to revitalize ourselves. (p. 77)

I first read this book in Rabbinical School, and it has stuck with me.  One section in which Heschel discusses the role of the sermon has particularly resonated.  The sermon, he says, was never of primary importance during Jewish worship.  And yet now, as he speaks to his rabbinic colleagues in the mid-1950’s, it is given “prominence… as if the sermon were the core and prayer the shell.”  (p. 79)  Then he complains about sermons that are indistinguishable from editorials in the New York Times, popular science, or the latest theories of psychoanalysis.  Or, that Rabbis deliver scholarly, intellectual discourses that identify the historical pre-Israelite pagan roots of various Jewish holidays.  All of this misses the point entirely.

“Preach in order to pray.”  Heschel urges.  “Preach in order to inspire others to pray.  The test of a true sermon is that it can be converted to prayer.” (p. 80)

Heschel’s plea is always present for me.  Always.

“Preach in order to pray.”  I find it to be a tremendous challenge.  My default mode is “intellectual.”  I do not think of myself as the kind of person who expresses a sense of deep spirituality.  I am not someone who would be comfortable leading meditation.  I am very comfortable discussing the various traditional interpretations of a biblical phrase, and then comparing them to modern biblical scholarship.

“Preach in order to pray.”  That would require me to be open, honest, and vulnerable.  That is scary.  On the other hand, the times in my life when I have allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of others – times when I have been honest about my mistakes, my fears, and my doubts – those are the times when I have been able to pray with the greatest kavanah.  But to bring myself to do that every week is not easy for me.

But this is not about me.  It is about our community.  Heschel’s challenge, and Joey’s, is to us not as individuals, but as a community.

Do we want this to be a place in which tears can flow?  Do we want to be surprised when we pray in this room?  Do we want to find God in our synagogue?

There are numerous ways in which to build a community in which these kinds of things can happen.  Heschel doesn’t have anything specific in mind.  He writes:

“My intention is not to offer blueprints, to prescribe new rules – except one: Prayer must have life.  It must not be drudgery, something done in a rut, something to get over with…”  (p. 76)

Singing together is a powerful way to give prayer life.  It has been an important part of Judaism ever since we crossed the Sea of Reeds.

So here is what I suggest.  And again, it is up to us.  It will be different, and possibly uncomfortable.  When we return the Sefer Torah to the ark in just a few moments, we’ll bring the Torah around the room.  Today we’ll go around the back and come down the aisle on the other side so that we cover more ground.  As the Torah passes you, if you like, join in the procession behind it, continuing all the way up to the ark, where we will sing Etz Chayim Hi together.  It’s a Tree of Life – but only when we give it life.

Then, we’ll go straight into musaf.  Again, you are invited to stay up front and stand close together around the podium, joining all of our voices in song and prayer together.

If we are going to become a singing community, we’ve got to commit.  If we make that commitment, I am confident that it will happen.