Our congregation, like most, seeks to create a communal prayer experience that is engaging to all who worship with us. Doing so is not always an easy task, for we are a diverse congregation made up of people of various backgrounds, skill sets, and spiritual interests. What kind of service can we create that will meet everyone’s needs? One answer is to embrace compromise. The idea of valuing both receiving and giving in the area of prayer, like so many areas of life, applies not only as communal experience but also as a personal one.
Few congregations are so single-minded that all its worshippers are satisfied with whatever prayers are recited and whatever prayer customs are practiced. An old story is told about a congregation that was fighting constantly over whether or not to stand while reciting Shema Yisrael. The battles were so intense that the president feared people would start throwing prayer books at one another. So a delegation of synagogue leaders was appointed to visit the oldest living congregant, a man over 100 years old living in a nursing home, to find out if the members of the congregation stood or sat for Shema in its early years. The small group came to see the elderly congregant and said, “We must know what to do. Did we always sit for Shema?” The old man answered, “No, I don’t recall that.” They then asked, “Well, did we always stand for Shema?” He answered, “No, I don’t recall that either.” In frustration, they said, “Please tell us what to do…people are throwing prayer books at each other!” The old man said, “Yeesss…that’s what happened back then!”
The reality of Jewish communal prayer, as we learned from Rabbi Jan Uhrbach this past Sunday at our annual Rabbi Alexander Shapiro Memorial Lecture, is that congregations that want to grow and thrive must compromise on modalities of prayer. Such compromise includes being open-minded about not only choices of prayers and music and length of the service, but also about the possibility of experimentation and creative innovation. Here at Oheb Shalom, we strive for an engaging worship service. In order to achieve that, we must be open to compromise. No member of our congregation will necessarily be completely satisfied with every aspect of our service. But, according to the nature of compromise, our members will be fulfilled by the experience as a whole of praying with our congregation. There must be a give and take when it comes to communal prayer.
There is also a “give and take” when it comes to our personal prayer experience as well. There are times in prayer that we hope to be fulfilled, uplifted and satisfied. We want to feel calmed and sheltered from the hectic pace of life. We want to feel unburdened, and to sense that we have been heard. Some of us may desperately want our prayers to be answered. These wishes are understandable and form an important approach to prayer, one which our Sages identified as Bakasha, or petition. Viewed this way, prayer is about satisfying the self.
Yet, there are times that prayer is not about “taking” but about “giving.” Our tradition encourages us to offer ourselves in prayer, to express praise and gratitude to our creator (our Sages called these Shevach and Hoda’a), to see our place as part of a greater whole. There are times that we “give ourselves” in prayer, and there are times that we “take.” This is the nature of life, and it is the way of Jewish prayer.
Join us this Shabbat morning. We’ve built some interesting innovations into the service that we hope you will receive positively. We want to make our congregation’s Tefilah more engaging, more fulfilling, more accessible to you. Come to give of yourself by adding your voice and your ideas, and come to receive spiritual nourishment.
And come to enjoy Kiddush! I am a firm believer that people come to shul on Shabbat morning not only take part in a service but to have a great Kiddush. So I’m making the Kiddush this week—Cholent and kugel! Don’t miss out!