Thursday, March 1, 2018

What I learn from the Shabbat Morning Prayers - column for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Adelante Newsletter for March 2018

1) Be grateful for the opportunity to wake up on each new day. The MODEH ANI prayer thanks God for giving us back our soul every morning after it has “taken flight” at night while we slept.
2) Don’t take for granted for the ways in which our bodies work (hopefully well). The prayer for the body generally describes the functioning of our heart, our digestive tract, and our blood flow. The words of this meditation note that if anything in our bodies would fail to function properly, we would not be able to stand with our community.
3) Appreciate the soul that makes us human. Once when I was discussing with Religious School students what the soul might be, one child said, “It’s what makes you you.” There are various levels of the soul within Judaism which relate to our basic existence as members of the animal kingdom, moving higher to our emotions and then to greater awareness of being part of a higher existence. We each are stamped with a touch of the divine, but we bring to our lives our own individuality.
4) Recognize the blessings that we enjoy every day as human beings and as members of an ancient community of faith. The prayers in this section, titled in Mishkan T’filah “Miracles Every Day/Nisim B’chol Yom,” praise the Eternal One for enabling us to tell day from night, for giving us a measure of sight, for freeing captives (and giving us the possibility of movement), for lifting up the fallen, for strengthening our steps, for removing sleep from our eyes, for creating us in the divine image, for making us free (a gift that hopefully many people can enjoy), for being allowed to struggle with God (that is the meaning of “Yisrael”), and for providing us with strength and glory as members of the Jewish people. Some say these blessings trace our process of waking up, taking our first steps of the morning, getting dressed, and going out to face a new day.
5) Take every opportunity to study, because study can lead to right action. Of course, it does depend what you study. We thank God in this part of the service for making the words of Torah sweet for us, and for finding new ways to discover our own truth while, if possible, exploring the truths of others in a spirit of understanding and dialogue even within our own community.
6) Identify and practice the essential acts that can enhance the community in which we live. The EILU D’VARIM prayer presents a guide for what we can do without limit, where the reward is in the doing: honoring our parents, engaging in deeds of compassion, exhibiting an eagerness to study, showing hospitality, visiting those who are ill, being present at times of celebration (weddings) and sorrow (at a funeral), being devoted in your prayer, and making peace between people. This text, originally from the Talmud, offers us a roadmap to making a positive impact upon the people in our lives.
7) Sing! Praise! Thank! Appreciate the wonders of the world! Be enthusiastic about your gratitude! Know that the Creator of the Universe is present with You every day! The Verses of Song/P’sukei D’Zimrah section begins with paying homage to the power of the divine word in causing all existence to come to be, and identifying compassion as a fundamental aspect of God’s rule over creation. Psalm 92 (for Shabbat) celebrates the presence of righteous people in the world who follow God’s ways. Psalm 145, with its “Ashrei” introduction, gives thanks to God as our support and strength. Psalm 150 recalls how voices, musical instruments, and dance can combine to offer rousing proclamations of praise to the Eternal One. The final prayer, NISHMAT KOL CHAI (Let every living soul bless God), notes that our words of praise may not be enough to capture the vastness and greatness of creation, but those words are all we have, so we should not refrain from offering our declarations of wonder, gratitude, and hope for blessing in our continued existence.
8) Remember, always, to prepare yourself to pray properly. Like the rabbis of old, ease yourself into a place where the words in the prayerbook will be more than words. Note the values they reflect, the wonder they express, the gratitude for life that they direct you to utter.
9) Take note that the prayers are, mostly, in the language of “WE.” They are for each of us, individually, and for us as members of a community. So join the communal chorus that we create at every service, because it is in that union of our voices that we bring to life the deepest spirit of our heritage.

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