23K. It?s a window seat. It?s my seat. Flight 012; El Al. The local time must be around 7 or 8 or 9 A.M. and, according to the map on my screen, we are somewhere between Halifax and Lisbon, I guess. It doesn?t really matter. I have just completed davening Shacharis (my morning prayers). Nothing unusual about that. It?s something I?ve done every day for the past?er?many years. Of course, I?m usually 38,000 feet closer to the ground and in a shul when I daven, but the words are very much the same. I like tefilla and I?ll tell you why. First of all, there?s something special about speaking to Hashem. It?s a chance to check-in with my Manufacturer and get a sense of what, if any, repairs are necessary. Maybe all I need is to review the operator?s manual and see if I am faithful to the instructions. Periodically a major tune-up is indicated. So it?s good to stop in and open the hood. Second, life today, as you know, is incredibly hectic. I needn?t explain why. And prayer time is a preset regimen that allows for needed breaks from whatever it is we are engaged in. What a statement it is when we choose to begin and end our daily activities with a service of the heart and also find time smack in the middle of our day to do the same. Third, I enjoy the shul. Men are directed to daven with a minyan, a quorum of ten, whenever possible, and I take pleasure in the camaraderie and unity that the setting provides. My occasional visit to the amud (pulpit) to lead the service is a little bonus. I wish it weren?t so, but frankly, tefilla is not always invigorating. It can become stale and hackneyed ? bereft of meaning or purpose. In fact, it often does. Keeping one?s davening fresh and evocative, given the sheer frequency of this most holy pursuit, is a constant challenge faced by every man, woman, and child. There are no easy solutions. THE SKY-HIGH ADVANTAGE But davening on a 747, of course, presents a whole array of different challenges. Remembering to put your Siddur in your carry-on, choosing the appropriate time and space to
Rabbi Yaakov Salomon,
L.C.S.W Reprinted with permission from www.aish.com, the world?s most visited Jewish educational website. Excerpts published by artscroll/Shaar Press. all rights reserved.
daven, when, whether, and how to stand, and (for men) donning the tallis and tefillin while crouched under an overhead bin are all complications and potential impediments to a meaningful and dynamic prayer experience. And depending on who your seat mate happens to be, you may have a little explaining to do when you?re done. But, like nearly everything in life, even these clouds of hardships in tefila, contain silver linings. As I return my Siddur to the seat-pocket in front of me, I reflect on the tefilos, just completed. And to my utter surprise, I am left with a good feeling. Despite the aforementioned inconveniences, a strange ? almost elevated ? mood has wafted over me. ?Where did it come from?? I wonder. Well, to begin with, Plane Prayer (PP) has two huge advantages over Shul Prayer (SP) ? you can?t come late and you can?t leave early. How often are we seen huffing and puffing, even when davening at home, trying to catch the runaway Shacharis train or ducking out early to catch the runaway commuter train. With no fixed starting time and certainly nowhere to go when you?re finished, PP affords you the rare opportunity to actually daven at any pace you like. (It goes without saying that SP, with it power of a tzibbur (congregation), has other clear cut advantages.) An added bonus to this most unusual experience (PP) is that you are not forced to ?keep up? with the rest of the congregants or the shliach tzibbur, service leader. If you want to spend more time on a particular section, such as the Sh?ma or the Amida, you are free to do so. And so I did. I began by focusing some extra few moments on the oft attentionstarved fifteen blessings that open Shacharis 1 . Our Sages teach that as one experiences the phenomena of the new day, he should bless G-d for providing them. One example occurred when I came to blessing #9 ? Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King 1 Anshei Knesses Hagedola (the Men of the Great Assembly) formulated our present-day specific text of tefilla ? at the beginning of 2 nd Beis Hamikdash Temple era. It consisted of 120 elders, among who were many prophets. of the Universe, Who spreads out the earth upon the waters 2 . Had I ever stopped to contemplate an appreciation for Hashem?s having formed a hard crust over the planet?s interior ? made up of water, gasses, and molten metals? Ordinarily, my eyes are still sealed shut and my lips are on cruise control until 20 ? 30% of the davening has passed. Who doesn?t take walking on a firm surface for granted? And who could have predicted that my gratitude for this newfound pleasure would multiply just 32 hours later, when I ?survived? a 2 second earthquake in Jerusalem (really) ??? Even before the blessings, I usually endow a full 25 seconds or so of SP to the holy song, ?Adon Olam? 3 . This short masterpiece, written over 900 years ago, succinctly proclaims Hashem?s attributes of being timeless, infinite, and omnipotent. Today, however, during PP, I noticed that the author also included in the same song, the description, ?He is my G-d, my living Redeemer?. He is my banner?.? I closed my eyes for just a moment and marinated in the glow that an Omnipotent Creator is also MY G-d, MY Redeemer, and MY Banner. I loved the feeling of having a real and Personal G-d; not easily discerned when driving 100 miles per hour during home or SP. LETTING THE ENGINE IDLE Later, I let the engine idle while traveling through the Baruch She?Amar prayer. Commentators record an ancient tradition that this tefila was transcribed by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola, Men of the Great Assembly, 2400 years ago from a script that actually fell from heaven! And yet?usually?unfortunately?it hardly rates a reflection of any substance or even a second glance, I dare say. Today, however, I chanced upon the phrase therein that extols Hashem, ?Who constantly creates. 4 ? Today, it gave me pause. Creation was not limited to a one time Big Bang-like happening. No. Hashem didn?t just finish His project and go on vacation. Creation is ongoing? current?never-ending. And so is Hashem?s direction, guidance, and love. Something to remember. Now basking in the luxury of unhurried PP, I took a moment to consciously peer out my window. Usually, during home or SP, this activity is keenly discouraged, probably because the outside scenery on land would likely 2 ?Roka haaretz al hamayim? 3 Adon Olam begins by recounting the unfathomable eternity and omnipotence of Hashem; but also includes ?V?Hu Kalee ? He is My G-d? ? conveying a personal relationship. 4 ?Baruch Oseh Bereishis ?Blessed is He Who constantly creates?? oseh in the present tense. serve only as a distraction, not an enhancement of the prayer. But today I wasn?t drifting off; on the contrary. I was saying the verses: It is You alone, Hashem, You have made the heaven, the most exalted heaven, and all their legions, the earth and everything upon it, the seas and everything in them, and You give them all life?. Excitedly, I gazed out onto the horizon. The Navi (prophet) was right. Having never flown in an airplane, he depicted, nonetheless, the magnificence of the celestial bodies, the expanse of the universe, the splendor of creation. I breathed deeply. I marveled at the commanding sunlight bouncing off the plane?s fuselage, I winced at the robust wind currents that shook our craft, and I felt?oh? so small. Literally and figuratively, my tefilos were carrying me to new heights. I?m not sure if davening seven miles higher than sea level really means the supplication is actually closer to Hashem or not, but somehow I felt closer. Unperturbed by fellow congregants (who may daven too loud, out of sequence, or off key), crying babies, or telephones, unaffected by the boundaries of time, and impervious to all the usual distractions, I sat in my cabin of tranquility ? just me, Hashem, and my siddur. It was very special. UTTERED, BUT SELDOM REALLY SAID The illuminated seat belt sign in front of me meant the Amida would be rendered a virtual oxymoron (I said it in my seat), but nothing could disturb this voyage of virtue. I just took my sweet time, reflecting on nearly every word; words that I had uttered tens of thousands of times, but never really said ? or understood properly. And then I made a remarkable discovery. The word that is said more than any other, in the entire Shemona Esrei, is not, Baruch, Blessed, or Shalom, Peace or Melech, King or even Hashem. It is the word, ?Atoh? You. 33 times we refer to Hashem as ?You.? We speak to Hashem. And we speak with great awe and reverence. And often, in the third person. But more often, we speak to Hashem directly. We speak in the second person. We say, ?You!? Kings, queens, great Rabbis, statesmen, even parents are often referred to in the third person. It is a sign of ultimate respect. But the composers of our holy tefilos, the Anshei Knesses Hagedola ? some of them bonafide, indisputable prophets ? fashioned our most devout prayers in terminology that tells us to converse with Hashem, freely, directly, comfortably, almost?informally. It is communication without hindrance, impediment, or veneer. Incredible. Now inspired by the comforting thought that we are encouraged to see Hashem as a being we can easily relate to, I was reminded of a startling insight I once heard. One of the great mysteries of religious observance is the manner in which so many Jews sway back and forth during prayer. We call it shuckeling. Tourists at the Kosel (Western Wall), as well as less conversant observers of tefilla in all locales, are often perplexed or even put-off by the seemingly strange calisthenics or fanatical antics of over-enthusiastic Jews in prayer mode. But Rabbi Shimon Schwab z?tl offered a simple yet penetrating insight. There are two primary vehicles for Divine service ? ahava and yira ? love and awe. Both are necessary components of a comprehensive and satisfying relationship with Him. Love and awe can perhaps be depicted by the manner in which we address Him. When we use the third person ? He, Him, His, in the vernacular ? it expresses awe, fear, reverence. Second person terminology ? Atoh (You) ? is a more casual and direct pronoun, perhaps portraying love. The swaying, or shockeling, during tefila is an external manifestation of both properties ? we bend forward (expressing love), and then realizing Who He is, we draw away (demonstrating fear or awe) 5 . I gently pressed the button to recline 23K. I turned to the window once more. A momentary splash of turbulence stirred the weary travelers. For just a second, everyone was shockeling ? perhaps more in fear than in love. I smiled. I gazed out at the foreign terrain and alien bodies of water. Again, I felt small, but a good kind of small. Tefila can do that. Tefila should do that. PP was not something that I had looked forward to. All I had anticipated was how inconvenient and different it was going to be. Well?it was different. In a few hours, we would land in Eretz Yisroel. Soon thereafter I?ll be davening again. I have a feeling it will be different, too. All my newly-gained insights, now augmented by the sacred setting of our Homeland, and enhanced by the holy company of a minyan of like-minded Jews. Of course, it will be different. Rabbi Yaakov Salomon, L.C.S.W. is a noted psychotherapist, in private practice in Flatbush for over 25 years. He is a Senior Lecturer and the Creative Director of Aish Hatorah?s Discovery Productions. He is also an editor and author for the Artscroll Publishing Series? and a member of the Kollel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. 5 Rabbi Schwab, in his sefer on tefilla, points out that there are 21 verses in Ashrei ? in 11 we address Hashem in the second person, and 10 are in the third person? expressing ahava and yira. 14 | Flatbush Jewish Journal Thursday, April 29, 2010 718.692.1144 | www.flatbushjewishjournal.com