I know we don’t confess to rabbis, but I have a confession. Even if I can read some of the prayers during the High Holy Days, I still don’t understand what I’m saying…. To tell you the truth, I’d rather take a quiet reflective walk in the park this year than spend all that time in synagogue saying a bunch of words that don’t really mean much to me anyway. Do you have any suggestions?
Prayer is meant to be a powerful, relevant and meaningful experience. At the same time, a lengthy synagogue experience can be a bit intimidating. The following is a list of perspectives to keep in mind when focused on prayer that should help to make the services as personally uplifting as possible.
Self-imposed expectations lead to self-induced frustrations. Therefore, don’t expect to be “moved” by every prayer or to follow along with the entire service.
Five minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling and a personal connection to the words and their significance means far more than five hours of lip service. Try looking at each page as its own self-contained opportunity for prayer, reflection and inspiration. If you are successful with one page, that’s great; if not, then just move right along to the next page, the next of many opportunities.
Read slowly through the prayers, carefully thinking about what you’re saying, and don’t be concerned about lagging behind the congregation. The worst that could happen is that you will be on a different page from everyone else, but don’t worry; the pages will probably be announced so you can always catch up. (You’ll always be “on the same page” with the congregation in other ways.)
If a particular sentence or paragraph touches you, linger there awhile. Think those words over and over to yourself, and allow those words to touch you. Feel them. And if you’re really brave, then close your eyes and think those words over for a couple of minutes.
As you sit in your synagogue for Yom Kippur, you are joining millions of Jews in synagogues all over the world. You are a Jew, and by participating in the holidays, you are making a powerful statement about your commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.
Best wishes to you and all the readers throughout Texas for a meaningful, happy and healthy New Year. May it be a sweet year for you and Jews everywhere, with peace and tranquility in Israel.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.