LEARNING ABOUT PRAYER
Join Rabbi Jan Uhrbach for a discussion of the origins, structure and meaning of Jewish prayer. The class meets at 5 pm every Tuesday evening throughout the summer, on Zoom. Texts are taught in English with Hebrew for reference. Drop in any time.
Email for the Zoom login info. The class is free, but non-members are asked to make a donation to help support the synagogue.
Videos of prior sessions, as well as copies of the texts, are available here.
TIPS FOR PRAYING ON YOUR OWN
Many of you have a copy of our prayerbook, Siddur Lev Shalem, at home. If you don’t own one, and you’re in the Hamptons, we do have a limited number of copies to sell at $36. If you’d like one, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I can leave a copy outside the synagogue house for you to pick up. In addition, the Rabbinical Assembly has made the entire prayerbook available for download in pdf form! You can download it here:
Prayer in community has its advantages, but so does praying alone. You can take your time and linger on particular passages that speak to you. You can sit in silence, and allow the deepest truth of your heart and soul to emerge. It is always permissible (and wonderful) to simply speak to God in your own words.
If you decide to pray from the siddur (in Hebrew, English or a combination), here are some suggestions for Friday night (the essential components of the liturgy are in bold).
Preparatory Prayers — Kabbalat Shabbat
|10||There are two beautiful poems here about the soul’s yearning: the traditional Yedid Nefesh, and the contemporary poem by Sivan har-Shefi in the margin. Choose one and sit with its language – read the words aloud and feel them in your mouth. Allow yourself to experience longing, and see if you can name precisely what you yearn for.|
|11-21||Psalms 95-99, 29. Feel free to pray any, none, or all of these psalms, or choose a line or two, or any of the poems on those pages.|
|23-25||L’kha Dodi. This is a poem we usually sing together, as we welcome Shabbat. You can sing it at home to a favorite melody, or as an alternative perhaps read the English aloud. The poem expresses the sense that every Shabbat is a little taste of redemption. You might choose one verse, and see if you can experience that aspect of redemption at least for the time of this Shabbat.|
|26||In the synagogue, we would normally welcome into our community anyone who is in the midst of sitting shiva, and express our condolences. The formal liturgy on this page is for that purpose. But many of us are experiencing different kinds of grief right now — whether specific grief for someone we’ve lost, more ambient grief for the loss (even if temporary) of the way things were, or anticipatory grief of what’s to come. You might want to take a moment to sit quietly and honor that grief for a moment, welcome it in and feel the companionship of others similarly grieving, and hopefully find some comfort in the readings in the margin (particularly on the left side).|
Psalms 92 and 93 These Psalms are the oldest part of the Kabbalat Shabbat service. I also highly recommend the quote by Heschel on page 28.
The Evening Service — Ma’ariv
Siddur Lev Shalem
|39a or 39b||
Begin with the First B’rakhah Before the Sh’ma (beginning with Barukh Atah — skip Barkhu at the top of the page). This blessing focuses on the blessing of Creation. Take a moment to focus on the beauty — both inspiring and terrifying — of nature. As you pray these words, try to experience yourself as truly a part of nature, not apart from it (that is, we’re not “in” an environment, we’re an integral part of an ecosystem). You can pray the full text, or sit with the theme, and then pray the end beginning with the red arrow.
|40||The Second B’rakhah Before the Sh’ma. This blessing focuses on the gift of Torah — instruction in living — as an expression of God’s love. You might want to think about the sources of guidance in your life: who/what offers you the deepest, most helpful direction? what enables you to receive it and take it in? what guidance do you need now? Again, you can pray the full text, or sit with the theme, and then pray the end beginning with the red arrow.|
|41-42||The Shma. This is the centerpiece of Jewish prayer.|
|43a or 43b and 44||The First B’rakhah after the Sh’ma. This is a prayer for release and redemption. Page 43a offers the Exodus from Egypt as the model of redemption; on 43b, the model is instead Shabbat. Choose one or the other, or hold your own vision of what redemption and rescue would look like, and then turn to page 44.|
The Second B’rakah after the Sh’ma. This is a prayer for protection and peace in the night — much needed right now. The poem in the margin (“Shelter Me in a Leaf”) is also quite beautiful.
V’shamru(the first paragraph at the top of the page; skip the passage for Festivals and Hatzi Kaddish). This is a quote from Exodus 31 about keeping Shabbat (which keeps us right back!).
The Friday Night Amidah. The Amidah is the second main pillar of Jewish prayer (the Sh’ma is the first). This is recited standing, with feet together (imitating the angels), facing Jerusalem. One reason we all face Jerusalem is to feel unified in our prayer with Jews all over the world — our prayers are all directed to the same place. Stand as still and tall as you can — see if you can imagine yourself as a channel connecting heaven and earth. Flowing up through you are needs and deeds — your own and that of the world. You are the channel lifting up humanity’s goodness, and expressing longing, pain, hope and joy. Flowing down through you is Divine energy. You are the channel bringing love, gentleness, compassion, healing, hope, and transformation. You may choose to pray the formal text, any of the commentaries, your own words, or simply stand in silence.
53 Vay’khulu (the first paragraph on the page; skip the rest) This is another Biblical quote (from Genesis 2), affirming that the world isn’t just random, it was created, with purpose and intention. And the capstone of that creation — it’s ultimate purpose — is the rest, refraining and wholeness of Shabbat.
Aleinu. This prayer, a reminder of the Oneness of which we are apart and to Whom we are responsible, concludes every service.
You can stop here, or close with one of the songs on pages 60-62, or your favorite Jewish song.
Adon Olam is on page 211, if that’s your favorite.
Shalom Aleikhem is on page 73, followed by blessings to recite at the table (through page 77).