“But Rabbi, even if I can read some of the prayers, I still don’t understand what I’m saying… To tell you the truth, I’d rather take a quiet reflective walk in the park this year than spend all that time in synagogue saying a bunch of words that don’t really mean much to me anyway.”
Prayer is meant to be a powerful, relevant and meaningful experience. At the same time, a lengthy synagogue experience can be a bit intimidating. The following is a list of perspectives to keep in mind this year that should help to make the services as personally uplifting as possible.
- Five minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling and a personal connection to the words and their significance means far more than five hours of lip service. Therefore, don’t look at your prayer book as an all-or-nothing proposition consisting of hundreds of prayers that absolutely must be recited. Rather, try looking at each page as its own self-contained opportunity for prayer, reflection and inspiration. If you are successful with one page that’s great; if not, then just move right along to the next page, the next of many opportunities.
- “Self-imposed expectations lead to self-induced frustrations.” Therefore, don’t expect to be “moved” by every prayer or to follow along with the entire service.
- Read slowly through the prayers, carefully thinking about what you’re saying, and don’t be concerned about lagging behind the congregation. Look, the worst that could happen is that you will be on a different page than everyone else, but don’t worry, the pages will probably be announced so you can always catch up.
- If a particular sentence or paragraph touches you, linger there a while. Say the words over and over to yourself – softly, but audible to your own ear. Allow those words to touch you. Feel them. And if you’re really brave, then close your eyes and say those words over and over for a couple of moments.
- You’re not that proficient in Hebrew? Don’t worry, God understands whatever language you speak. And like a loving parent, He can discern what’s in your heart even if you can’t quite express it the way you would like.
- As you sit in your synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur you are joined by millions of Jews in synagogues all over the world. You are a Jew, and by participating in the holidays you are making a powerful statement about your commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.
This article is an excerpt from “The Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit.” The book masterfully blends wisdom, humor and down-to-earth spirituality. It’s like having a knowledgeable friend sitting right next to you in the synagogue.