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Why centrist Orthodox living doesn’t make good TV

15 1 1
06.09.2021

We are on the verge of an intense prayer season, one that arouses our sense of unpreparedness as the opening words of the Rosh Hashanah service are first intoned with their haunting, ancient melodies. Suddenly, abashedly, we are here. The Days of Awe are upon us. But we are not ready. Introspection begins in earnest. Reflections on the year past occupy us even as we ponder — and also worry about — the days ahead. Our tefilot on the Days of Awe are filled with urgency and existential anxiety. Our Father, our King, we have sinned before you. We are unsure what the next year will bring. Who will rest and who will wander… Who will be at ease and who will suffer? We are aware of our insignificance, like clay in the hands of a potter. The trembling of the shofar’s cry mirrors our own brokenness. Our lives are like a faded flower, a fleeting shadow, a dream that slips away.

These same existential refrains appear, for traditional Jews, in the recitation of Tahanun that concludes the Selihot service and is recited twice daily. Well, not exactly every day. There are a number of reasons that vitiate Tahanun’s daily recitation. On days that it is not said, you can almost hear an audible sound of relief in the synagogue, particularly on Mondays or Thursdays. This small omission is a reprieve for many, but not because it shaves a few minutes from the service. Simply put, it is hard to be this vulnerable and insignificant in the blur of early morning.

In reciting Tahanun, we follow the example of Daniel, who understood that moments of crisis — and there is always a crisis somewhere — require humility: “I turned my face to the Lord God, devoting myself to prayer and supplication, in fasting, in sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3). Like the ancient sages who added personal petitions and appeals that followed Shemoneh Esrei (Berakhot 16b-17b, 31a), we too beg for God’s mercy. Tahanun opens with the recitation of King David’s plea after sinning, “Let us fall, I pray you, into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are many…” (II Sam. 24:14). So we fall. Nefilat apayim (lit. falling on the face) offers us the movement of submission based on Moses and Aaron’s response to Korach’s challenge (Num. 16:22). Joshua, too, fell on his face when confronted by the enormity of his failure at Ai (Josh. 7:6). Weaving verses from Psalms (6: 2-11) in the first paragraph, we open the last passage with a verse from the very last biblical book, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are turned on You” (II Chron. 20:12), and close Tahanun with the desire for salvation and forgiveness: “Help us, O God, our deliverer, for the sake of the glory of Your name. Save us and forgive our sin, for the sake of Your name” (Psalm 79:9).

Sandwiched between these paragraphs, we make three statements that cement the values we aim to protect each day. I believe these represent three cornerstones of contemporary, centrist Orthodoxy that have been challenged this past year and must be confirmed anew as we welcome a new year and its new challenges.

During COVID, many of our commitments have been put to the test. We lost important scholars and leaders who articulated a path forward amidst confusion. Orthodoxy, thus, finds itself at a critical inflection point. We turn to Tahanun, of all places, for guidance. After reciting the first paragraph of Tahanun, we........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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