I went to shul today for Shacharit, like any other day. But today, Yom Hashoah it felt wrong, dislocated, at variance with reality.
I asked myself, I felt: How are we not saying Tachanun today?
On Yom Hashoah, how can we not say:
הַבֵּט מִשָּׁמַיִם וּרְאֵה כִּי הָיִינוּ לַעַג וָקֶלֶס בַּגּויִם. נֶחְשַׁבְנוּ כַּצּאן לַטֶּבַח יוּבָל. לַהֲרוג וּלְאַבֵּד וּלְמַכָּה וּלְחֶרְפָּה
וּבְכָל זאת שִׁמְךָ לא שָׁכָחְנוּ. נָא אַל תִּשְׁכָּחֵנוּ.
This morning I stood in shul and felt I needed those words.
יהי רצון מלפני אבינו שבשמים . לרחם עלינו ועל פליטתנו ולמנוע משחית ומגפה מעלינו ומעל כל עמו בית ישראל . ונאמר אמן
So it is Nissan and we don't say tachanun, but today the entire public space, the air we breath, is filled with the Shoah, my thoughts and emotions are Shoah, today I wake up and think Shoah. It feels wrong.
Yesterday a new student joined my class.
I asked him, as two frum men might, "Where do you daven?"
He replied: "I daven ביחידות (alone) unless I have to say kaddish."
so I asked him why he davens alone.
His reply: "How can I say the siddur. It is not true. We say ותוליכינו קוממיות לארצינו and שתעלינו בשמחה לארצינו and we are already here! It is like a man whose wife left him, and then she comes back and they renew their relationship, but all he can say to her is :"Please come back! I love you.. please return to me!" I cannot say those words to God. It is so false, so ungrateful. So I say my own prayers."
I must admit, this thought crosses my mind frequently on chag, on the Yamim Noraim, every day. So much of our prayer seems כפוי טובה ungrateful for the divine blessings that God has showered upon our generation. The blessings of freedom, of safety, of independence, of Jewish pride, of Eretz Yisrael, of Kibbuts Galuyot. How do I request הַרְאֵנוּ אות לְטובָה when there are plentiful signs?
How do I get up on a Monday and Thursday and say the same Tachanun that was recited in the shtetl in 1882 or in 1942, bemoaning the disgrace and humiliation of the Jewish people, when we are possibly the proudest generation in 2000 years?
A friend of mine adjusts benching, saying: ותוליכינו קוממיות בארצינו and not לארצינו because, after all, we ARE here!
So, I discussed this sentiment with my son. He responded that this is a shallow approach: "Even if we are in the midst of a positive process, we are merely at the inception of the "tikkun" we need to perform religiously, in terms of Jewish unity etc. We are nowhere near!"
He is correct. We have far to go on every scale. As a nation, we are deeply divided. We certainly fall short of our collective ethical and religious aspirations (as articulated by our prophetic heritage). We have much to do until we become the אור לגויים that we need to be. The majority of the Jewish people is not in Eretz Yisrael and overseas, assimilation is rampant. Regionally, Israel is distant from the Peace for which we hope and pray.
And still, how can we utter lies in Tefilla?
How dare we not recognize the critical shift in the global status of Jewry in an era of the State of Israel, when Jews around the world live in freedom and respect?
In the meantime, there are moments in which I am left with a huge dissonance between my prayerbook and myself. There are moments when Tachanun is in stark focus like today, Yom Hashoah. There are days when it is terribly dislocated.
So, I thought, maybe the only solution is for me, personally to be more dynamic, more pliable, more engaged and active in my prayer experience. To rely on my emotions more and the siddur less. To include certain things and to omit others, not permanently, but on an ad-hoc basis.
Or maybe, every tefilla any day, has a major note and a minor note. The question is not with the prayerbook but with me! How do I bring MYSELF to prayer
And so, I spent the morning mulling this and writing the first part of this post, feeling that the siddur was quite inadequate.
But then, I went to daven Mincha.
And somehow, probably because of the thinking I had done in the morning, I resolved to make it a "Yom Hashoah" mincha, to pour in special content, to really connect.
Surprisingly, Mincha was "real". I was able to genuinely talk to God.
And so, I am sharing some of my thoughts/kavanot (in very telegraphic form) that came to me as I recited the שמונה עשרה:
ראה בענינו - God see the suffering of your people, see the bitter suffering of the Holocaust, the crematoria, the gas chambers, the cattle trucks, the starvation, the death marches, the intimidation, the cruelty and torture ... The indescribable horrors .... and גאלינו make sure this never happens again! redeem us ... for ever!
רפאינו - Heal the survivors. Heal the children of survivors. Heal our nation. Close our divisions. As nature closes a wound, and broken flesh heals and becomes one again. God, give us unity.
ברך עלינו bless this year. No war. No terror, no Gaza. Bless us. ואת כל מיני תבואתה - Just 70 years ago people foraged for food and could not find it. People died of starvation. Look at the plenty we have to day! We are so blessed!
תקע בשופר גדול ... לקבץ גלויותינו - A mere 70 years ago, Jews wandered the globe, homeless, with no place to take them in. Now we have a home. Jews have returned to Israel - over 6 million of us. How would we have managed without Israel after the Holocaust? How would world Jewry have raised its head of not for the pride of the State of Israel? There is more to do! Bring world Jewry home to Israel. Let us build our Jewish state together.
השיבה שופטינו - the force of Law. The Nazi regime began by destroying law, making evil, racist laws. But we must create a society of lawfulness. A law that stems violence and harm, punishing the guilty and guarding the innocent, a law that protects the weak, that ensures equality, that excoriates racism and discrimination, that protects free speech, that protects religion, that ensures our morality. And we must protect our judges and the importance of law אלמלא מוראו איש את ראהו חיים בלעו
בא"ה מלך אוהב צדקה ומשפט - How did You - השופט כל הארץ allow such evil, injustice, barbarity? Hashem. Please reinstate your status as מלך אוהב צדקה ומשפט.
ולמלשינים - In the Shoah, people who were informants led to the death of so many. Oh! the power of language to kill! And now, today, hate-speech abounds, evil talk, evil intent. Betrayal, antisemitism. God! Please fight that hate! Uproot and destroy it מהרה תעקר ותמגר ותכניע במהרה בימינו.
על הצדיקים ועל החסידים - The saints: the mothers who went to their deaths comforting their children, the rabbis who led their faithful despite the hardships, the people who prayed daily in the Camps and Ghettos, the people who kept human dignity, who shared their food, who risked their lives. What faith they showed! What love of God and Man despite the depravity all around.. ותן שכר טוב לכל הבוטחים בשמך באמת ושים חלקינו עמהם - these are the holiest of the holy. And those who lost faith. That was also אמת They could not lie about God after what their eyes had witnessed.
ולירושלים עירך - One walks out of Yad Vashem into bustling Jerusalem! Who would imagined that איכה ישבה בדד is now העיר רבתי עם - Amazing! The phoenix from the ashes. ובנה אותה בקרוב...בנין עולם ... we have further to go. We are just beginning.
את צמח דוד - God. we thank you for Jewish government, for independence. For the pride of having a nation State. So critical after the Shoah. As Ruby Rivlin said last night; Israel will never leave Jews abandoned. דם יהודי אינו הפקר
שמע קולינו ... self explanatory
רצה ה' אלוקינו את עמך ישראל - God! Please love your people Israel. Please never reject us the way you did between 1939 and 1945. ותפילתם - All those prayers and tears that were offered during those years by faithful devout Jews. Where did they go? תָּשִׂים דִּמְעוֹתֵינוּ בְּנֹאדְךָ לִהְיוֹת. וְתַצִּילֵנוּ מִכָּל גְּזֵרוֹת אַכְזָרִיּוֹת.
מודים אנחנו לך - we have so much to be thankful for. For our families, our wives and children, our parents, peace and prosperity .... (and please ...keep going... count your blessings!) ועל כולם יתברך ויתרומם
שים שלום - Amen!!
עלינו ועל כל ישראל עמך
ברכינו אבינו באור פניך
And so ... as the afternoon progresses, tefilla comes into focus. The prayerbook regains relevance. In fact, it seems perfectly tuned to the spirit of the day!
Sometimes prayer comes to us. At others we have to create the prayer.