Searching for Understanding
It always takes me a few days to bounce back from the intensity of the high holy days. It’s a time of deep reflection, where a lot of things of the past year get mulled around and sorted out.
I have come to feel quite comfortable with the services, especially with the beautiful music, tunes and words passed down through the centuries, sung year after year around the world.
Even though I appreciate the feelings evoked by singing a particular song, there is often something missing. The songs are in Hebrew and my knowledge of that ancient language is spotty at best. I love the way a word like “Hashkiveinu” feels as we sing that beautiful prayer, but I have a hard time remembering that what we are saying to God is “Lie us down and spread over us a blanket of peace.”
Occasionally there is a prayer/song in English. At those times I can almost feel a palpable connection as the congregation hears words we all understand. It happened on Yom Kippur during the afternoon memorial service as our cantor sang “Tribute” (in English) and remembered the recent death of her mother. Her powerful emotions and the words of the song increased the intensity of the moment as the entire congregation empathized with her and thought about their own losses.
Part of me wishes for a service in the language I speak that would then give words and music equal weight in my experience. But Judaism is so steeped in tradition, that will probably never happen. And if it did, it would only serve to distance us from Jews around the world.
So instead my goal for next year is to make the leap of understanding that will enable me to really comprehend what I am singing as I pray the ancient Hebrew prayers. Perhaps I can organize classes for people like myself who long to have a deeper and even more meaningful experience. Perhaps I will find a knowledgable person to work with me one-on-one. Perhaps I will tackle only a small handful of prayers. But hopefully I will make some effort at understanding.