“That was fun!” “The time just few by!” These are not words typically heard as people leave a lecture/discussion about a prayer book. Less unusual, however, when the presenter is Rabbi Andrea Cosnowsky.
On April 11th, 43 people squeezed into the multipurpose room downstairs to participate in the first of five classes on the Siddur, two this spring and three beginning in the fall. While the classes are intended for adults who plan to become B’nai Mitzvah in April, 2017, they are open to anyone; in fact, this class was also comprised of those who have been members for many years, those who have joined recently, a few who are new to the area and/or new to Judaism.
A self-described lover of prayer books (a Siddurimophile?), Rabbi Cosnowsky displayed, briefly described and passed around a variety of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Renewal Siddurim, including the slim Gates of Prayer (Gates of Gray) that we used at Etz Chaim prior to our current Mishkan T’filah.
Our session began with the charge to spend a few minutes meeting people that we didn’t know and to be sure to partake of the many sweets provided. The importance of the latter reflected a very old custom of putting honey on one’s fingers or similarly eating something sweet prior to studying/learning to emphasize its sweetness.
The focus of this session was to explore why we pray – for meditation, for comfort, to identify with others and with community, to connect with the Divine, to express gratitude, to connect with those no longer with us. Connecting with the Divine is a human need, a vehicle for introspection, so that we regain resolve to make ourselves and the world a better place. Even those who profess not to believe in God pray, perhaps in the way a person drinks without realizing she/he is dehydrated.
We spent time discussing a number of concepts related to praying, such as minyan and community…the fact that while one can certainly pray alone, there is strength in numbers. When we live in a community, we discover how strong we are.
To discuss the first part of the prayer book, Rabbi Cosnowsky cited the story of the Tzanzer Rebbe who was asked by a Hasid: “What does the Rebbe do before praying?” “I pray,” was the reply, “that I may be able to pray properly.” We then took a brief look at the prayers we say and chant, the songs we sing prior to the actual prayer service, so that we perform the important work of preparing our soul to pray. Until the Barchu, we are warming up. Among the many things that we learned is that after the Second Temple was destroyed, prayer replaced the sacrifices. Traditional Jews pray three times daily as sacrifices were brought to the Temple three times a day.
We hope to see you on Monday, May 16th, at 7:30 PM, when Rabbi Cosnowsky will present session two, Seeking Spirituality through Prayer.
Submitted by Barbara Turner