September 5, 2002
Shhhh ... I’m Praying
Am I the only one who goes to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services to listen and participate?
Probably not. But why do I feel that way sometimes?
I realize it would be hypocritical to say I sit (and stand and sit and stand) through all those hours of psalms, songs, sermons and speeches totally focused and absorbed in prayer and pious contemplation. I'm human. My mind wanders. I think about a thousand things.
I read a passage in the Machzor and wonder how it relates to my life. A phrase captures my attention, and I try to understand what it really means. A thought enters my head, and I find myself lost in the liturgy.
But the services are skillfully arranged to bring me back. My mental meandering suddenly stops when the Torahs are removed from the Ark and carried around the sanctuary. My daydreaming ceases when the shofar is blown. The noise of the busy street just outside the synagogue doors seems to fade when I'm tuned in to the rabbi's broadcast frequency.
And when the Kohanim gather on the bimah and the rest of the congregation turns its collective face away, I am entranced by the haunting sound of the davening.
A synagogue is a house of worship. When we gather there on yom tov and Shabbat, it's for one reason -- prayer. We pray for understanding, consolation, guidance and more. And on Yom Kippur, forgiveness heads the list of what we seek.
We should always feel welcome at our synagogues. But we should remember where we are and why we are there. There will be opportunities to talk to friends following services. There will be hundreds of other days during the year to discuss sports, stocks and other secular subjects.
I am easily distracted, I was not blessed with X-ray vision and I have allergies.
I can't concentrate when the level of chatter among the worshippers turns into a deafening drone. I can't see the bimah when the tall woman seated in front of me wears a big hat that puts feathers in my face. I sneeze and get a bad headache when I'm near someone soaked in perfume or cologne.
I do enjoy an occasional giggle and other happy sounds of babies and small children in shul. But when the kids cry incessantly, it's time to take them out for a change of scenery or whatever.
The stress of living in our techno-driven society can be overwhelming. The frenzy of phone calls, e-mails, deadlines and demands can darken the brightest day.
So now, more than ever before, I treasure this time of year. I welcome the breaks from commerce and computers. I appreciate the switch from virtual to virtuous. And I value this chance to recharge my spirit, review my actions and reactions, and reevaluate my goals and the path that leads me to them.
Maybe I'm too sensitive to my surroundings. Or maybe I'm just a chronic complainer who never learned how to pray well with others. But whatever the reason, please humor me. Give me and my legions of co-kvetchers a break this year. Go easy on the fragrance. Turn off the alarm on your watch. Leave your cell phone at home. Shut off the bleeping beeper. Try to keep conversation to a minimum.
It's all a matter of respect -- for these holy days and for your rabbi, cantor and co-congregants.
In return for your cooperation, you'll get our gratitude and good wishes for a healthy, happy and hassle-free new year.