Monday, February 3, 2014

Praying For The Whole

Parshat Tetzaveh
Shmot 27:20 - 30:10
8 Adar 1 5774 / Feb. 7-8, 2014

Praying For The Whole
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

In this week’s Torah portion Moshe and the Israelites are commanded regarding the clothing of the High Priest (Aaron), and his sons. In the caste system of this newly-liberated people there was one family (Aaron’s) from within the Levite family that would bear the burden and receive the honor of serving in God’s tabernacle. The Priests performed the holiday rituals and the daily sacrifices. They made sure to keep the lamp burning day and night, and were the only ones allowed to enter into the inner chambers of the temple.  Reflecting on this, I think about a monogamous relationship where the most intimate revelations about two people are shared between the couple only.

As we know very well, Judaism does not say that the Priestly connection was the only connection between humans and God. We believe that each person can reach out to God and also find forgiveness through God. If you think about it, atonement and reconciliation is a major function of clergy in many faiths. Similar to last week’s question, why have this central role if we are all privy to the power of Divine communication? And what of today, where a strong Jewish central figure seems to be missing?

When speaking of an individual’s relationship with God, I believe the priests’ role was less crucial. You did something wrong, and you brought an offering to the temple for atonement. The priests’ function was to help you with the roasting and blood spilling, and keeping order, very much like the clerks at a Department of Motor Vehicles. Essential for order, but not adding much more.

Now when we talk about communal processes, then the kohanim serve a much more important function. They act as the representative for the entire nation, with all of our intricate connections and bonds. This is very beautiful and wise. Having a central person atoning for the collective, shows that we understand that no one person is solely responsible for his or her actions. A murder acts within a social context and framework. A thief does not grow up with this propensity in a total vacuum. Just as we affect each other to express our positive identity, we also play a role in each other’s failings. Having the priest as a central figure is a cosmic play of the, “many combined into the One.”

Now how about today? We do not have the same system of centralized sacrificial atonement. We pray with words, words, and more words. Each person is individually responsible for the words of his or her lips and the meditations of his or her own heart. I believe, that the unification of prayer can be found in the repetition of the silent prayer by the Shaliach Tzibur (literally, The One Sent by the Collective), Service Leader. Also, we have a need for 10 people in order to say specific prayers – an enhancement of the individual prayer by the formation of a quorum.

In my own practice, over the past few months, I have been finding myself less  drawn to going to synagogue for prayer, but also in more of a need for an uplifting community experience during Shabbat. I think synagogue can provide that if I have the patience to show up and be open to the process that unfolds as we go through ancient rites of prayer. I will continue to explore this avenue. I also know that in my personal meditation practice, I sometimes feel bored, or I just do not want to sit and do my practice. What motivates me is to remember that world wide, people of all different faiths are engaged in communal practice right now, and that this is not something that I am doing all by myself. I feel myself plugging into a vast network of people trying to hone their compassion and higher-self qualities. It makes coming to the cushion (or  prayerbook) a lot easier.


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