There are some days that I lam able to lead a communal prayer service with a sincere focus and intent and there are others that I cannot get past the inaccuracy of the prayers. What I mean by inaccuracy is the ways that the words of the prayers so dramatically fail to talk about ‘God’ and the way that I understand and relate to ‘God’. The whole ‘king’ idea is certainly out for me, as is the concept of ‘God’ needing me or anyone else to praise, glorify yada, yada, yada. (For this reason you will never hear me refer to our communal prayer experience as ‘worship.’) There are times when I feel as if the traditional structure of the Jewish communal prayer service is the square shaped hole in which I am trying to shove my round shaped God-idea.
Unfortunately, I am not immune to such intellectual wanderings even during the High Holydays. In fact, I might be more prone to such wanderings and wonderings in the coming weeks as the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur seem to ratchet up this kind of spiritual dissonance. The dissonance increases when I place the liturgy of these days into the context of some of the broader themes of this time of year. There is Teshuvah – the process in which we seek to return to God – with its underlying assumption that we have spent the last year straying. Then there is the expectation of forgiveness. We ask God (the same one whom we have been busy praising, glorifying and ‘worshipping’) to grant us forgiveness for what we have done to our family, friends, foes, etc.so that we may be written in the Book of Life (a.k.a. The ‘You Can Live Another Year’ Warrant). In my role as rabbi – responsible for leading the services during the High Holydays – I find this spiritual dissonance of mine problematic, at best.
And yet, I keep coming back … and the beauty of My Elul Exercise is that I have 35 more days to ruminate all about it.