Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ivdu et HaShem b'simchah, bo-u l'fanav birnanah--Dancing in HaShem’s light

(Warning: Extremely long post, complete with hyperlink-clicking and some waiting for downloads. Read it when you have some spare time.)

Boy, was I surprised!

For many years, I’d seen men pull their tallitot (prayer shawls) over their heads and cover their eyes with their tallitot for a moment after reciting the blessing thereon. It had never occurred to me that they were actually (supposed to be) saying something while they were under there, until Psycho Toddler ( pointed out that he’d written a song to the words of that prayer, “Ma Yakar”—it’s on his “Rock of Sages” CD ( .

So I figured I’d give this prayer a try. And right away, I got into trouble. I may be something resembling a Conservative Jew in terms of ritual, most comfortable using a Conservative or Orthodox siddur (prayer book) and adding the Mothers where only the Fathers are mentioned (and daughters, where only sons are mentioned), but, in terms of theology, I’m still closer to Reconstructionist. I’m not sure just how literally I believe in a supernatural G-d. So what am I supposed to think of this prayer? Here’s the ArtScroll siddur’s (prayer book's) translation: How precious is Your kindness, G-d! The [er] sons of man [literally, sons, or children, of Adam, which can be translated “the human”—would you settle for “human beings” as a non-sexist translation?] take refuge in the shadow of your wings. May they be sated from the abundance of Your house; and may You give them to drink from the stream of your delights. For with You is the source of life—by Your light we shall see light. Extend Your kindness to those who know You, and Your charity to the upright of heart.”

It’s beautiful poetry, but could I live with it? Okay, so maybe I would learn just the first line.

Well, I tried, with my tallit pulled just over my head but not down over my eyes—it’s hard to read that way—but I couldn’t do it. I just kept hearing the rest of the music: “Ki imcha m’kor chayim, b’orcha nir’eh or.” I’d never make it as a Vulcan. Logic, schmogic—for me, music trumps theology almost every time. Shut up, Spock. :)

So I prayed the whole thing. And found myself in an odd position. How could I feel bathed in the light of a G-d in whom I’m not sure I believe?

But that feeling was there, nevertheless. I continued davvening (praying) with that feeling until I found myself almost at the end of Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit L’David (Psalm 30), when, suddenly, the words just jumped off the page and into my head . . .

. . . in three-part harmony.

This is what I heard. As my son would say, “Wait for it.” Hafachta (Shur)

“Hafachta misp’di l’machol li—you have changed my lament into dancing . . .”

So that’s why I recognize that line!

(Now if someone would please tell me where the second line comes from . . .)

I spent the rest of the service shuckling (swaying in prayer) like mad. That’s about as close as one can get to dancing while davvening.

Lines of poetry kept jumping off the page.

This one seems almost to have been written for Israeli folkdancers and choreographers, Jewish singers, songwriters, and musicians: Y’halelu sh’mo b’machol, b’tof v’chinor y’zamru lo—Let them praise His Name with dancing, with drums and harp let them make music to Him.” (Psalm 149)

And here’s one that’s always been a favorite when I’m in a poetic mood. It’s a Shabbat-v’Shalosh R’galim/Sabbath-and-Festival special, so old, according to the ArtScroll siddur, that it’s mentioned in the Talmud (Pesachim 118a): “Ilu finu malei shirah kayam…Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, and our tongues as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky, and our feet as swift as hinds, we still could not thank You sufficiently, HaShem our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, for even one of the thousands . . . and myriads of favors that You performed for us. You redeemed us from Egypt, HaShem our G-d, and liberated us from the house of bondage.” Dayenu (enough)—for me, being a free person is enough of a reason to be grateful.

And further on, in the same prayer, the writer quotes Psalm 35:10, which seems almost to have been written for dancers, instrumentalists, and those who use their hands (and those who interpret for them) to praise G-d in any of the world’s many sign languages of the Deaf: “Kadavar shekatuv, ‘Kol atzmotai tomarnah, HaShem mi chamocha’—“As it is written, ‘All my bones will say, HaShem, who is like You . . .’”

I tried this a couple of weeks ago and it didn’t work. Somehow, the bouncy music clashed with what seemed to me to be the solemnity of the words that came after it.

But this week, I was ready for it. I’d taken to heart these words from Psalm 100, which we recite during the weekday P’sukei D’Zimrah (Verses of Song) in Shacharit (Morning Service): “Ivdu et HaShem b’simchah, bo-u l’fanav birnanah—Serve HaShem with gladness, come before Him with joyous song.” And I was ready to celebrate. To celebrate all the words of this Shabbat-v’Shalosh-R’galim addition to this prayer. Keep scrolling through the “radio blog” until you get to “Hakol Yoducha.”

“Hakol yoducha, v’hakol y’shabchucha, hakol yomru ein kadosh kaShem. Hakol y’rom’mucha sela, yotzer hakol. All will thank You and all will praise You, and all will declare, 'Nothing is as holy as HaShem!' All will exalt You, Selah, You Whom forms everything.

The G-d who opens daily the doors of the gateways of the East, and splits the windows of the firmament, Who removes the sun from its place and the moon from the site of its dwelling, and Who illuminates all the world and its inhabitants, which He created with the attribute of mercy.”

I can’t remember the last time I davvened with such joy.

I davvened that way through the end of the Amidah shel Shacharit (the “Standing” Prayer of the Morning Service).

This was the last thing I heard in my head before leaving the apartment. In my head, I added a vocal harmony that doesn't actually exist on the recording--it took me at least a week of singing that harmony part to realize that I was making it up, based on an instrumental harmony in the background. Keep scrolling through the “radio blog” until you get to “Elokai Netzor.”

I’ve continued to maintain my recently-developed personal minhag (custom) of praying the entire Shacharit service at home on Shabbat (Sabbath) and Shalosh R’galim (Pilgrimage Festivals) in order to give myself enough time to recite many more prayers, and to try to recite them with more kavannah (intent, focus), than I could while attempting to keep up with our rabbi (P’sukei d’Zimrah) or cantor (everything else). This time, my timing was perfect for the day of a Bar Mitzvah celebration—I walked into the shul (synagogue) at the very beginning of the Torah service (Seder Hotza-at HaTorah). Never before have I sung the words “Baruch shenatan Torah l’amo Yisrael bi-k’dushato--Praised is the One who gave the Torah to His People Israel” with such a full heart. And, noch besser (even better), the Bar Mitzvah boy did a wonderful job of chanting the haftarah (a reading from books of the Bible later than the Torah/Five Books of Moses). The service ended with his older sister leading all the cousins in Ein Kelokeinu, Alenu, and Adon Olam.

I was “high” all morning. No booze. No drugs. Just high.

I rarely get so emotional in my davvening. This is probably not the case for all Reconstructionists, but I, personally, find that this sort of “high” requires me to almost-literally—or even (gulp) literally—suspend disbelief. So it doesn’t happen very often. And when it does, I enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

I spent the entire morning on a high.

And ended on a high, too.

Or perhaps I should say a high note.

This one.

Adon Olam (Skier)


Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

I so enjoyed your post!

I was not familiar with the custom of words spoken under the tallit- it is so totally cool. The words are there in the C siddur, but I had no idea they were to be said under the tallit. I am gonna do that soon.

As for the rest- I can so relate. I can relate to the words that leap out at you and how all of that leads in other directions and all of those words lead to G-d. It's that simple. The moment that you can embrace those words and feelings is the moment that you encounter G-d. And if you feel it afterwards, I think it is due to G-d's favour-- it reminds me of the promise and the given, that G-d will lengthen our days. It's like being in the zone, or encountering Tao.

I think that it takes a circumcised heart.

Sun May 29, 11:10:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Huh... never knew that passage for reciting under the tallis... i always assumed that what people say when they're busy wrapping up in their tallis is the berakha itself! And since i'm one of those people whose custom is to wait until marriage before wearing a tallis, that's what i've been doing whenever i've had to put on a tallis for hhazaning, leining, getting an ‘alíya or whatnot. Maybe i should ask my father about this...

Mon May 30, 04:27:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

According to the ArtScroll siddur, this is the procedure:
"Unfold the tallis, hold it in readiness to wrap around yourself, and recite the following blessing:
"Wrap the around your head and body, then recite:"
[Ma yakar]

There may be other minhagim (customs) concerning putting on the tallit. I'd love to know what your father replies, if you don't mind my asking.

I tried reciting Ma Yakar at morning minyan today. This is the first time I've tried it in public. I must admit that I felt more than a little "frummer than thou," standing there for so long with my tallit over my head as if I were a chassid. It may take me a while to feel comfortable doing this.

Mon May 30, 11:50:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Answer Steg was easy. Answering you, barefoot jewess, is another matter. Words jump out at me often, but I usually see them as poetry and/or quotes. Seeing them in *emotional* terms is another matter entirely for a rationalist like me. Embracing *words* is one thing--embracing *feelings* is another. I don't get "in the zone" very often. All this praying "to Whom it may concern," as the old Reconstructionist joke goes--according to the joke, the Orthodox pray to "Ribboinoi shel Oilum," the Conservatives pray to "Avinu shebaShamayim," and the [classical] Reform pray to "Dear L-ord"--gets in the way. I think prayer is easier for believers in a supernatural interpretation of G-d.

Tue May 31, 08:53:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lovely post. By the way, Hakol Yoducha and Hafachta are Moshe Skier covers are Diaspora Yeshiva originals. If you are not familiar with them, check 'em out. They are the grandaddys of Jewish Rock and Roll.
Birchot Hamitzvah are always recited before the act, except for Shabbos Candles. That is why when you light, you light, cover your eyes, and then recite the Bracha.

Tue May 31, 12:10:00 PM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band has an excellent 2 CD compilation called "The Diaspora Collection" which I had in my car until it was broken into. I highly recommend it.

Tue May 31, 05:04:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

What's a good website for buying Jewish CDs? There's nothing Jewish on or, and no mention of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band at Barnes & It seems to me that I used to have one or two Jewish music websites on my Favorites, but they must have been deleted the last time the resident techies, father and son, did some major work on this computer.

Wed Jun 01, 12:21:00 AM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Wed Jun 01, 04:50:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Wow, thanks! I've listened to some of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band's "audio samples," or whatever they're called, at They must have been a fairly large group. Pretty smooth-sounding, too--they certainly knew how to sing and play. The choice of instruments and music types is neat--you don't hear too much banjo-playing country music in Jewish circles. On the other hand, PT, I like your Hakol Yoducha and Hafachta better. I think they work better at the faster pace that your band(s) use. Hakol Yoducha has more of a kick to it that way.

Thu Jun 02, 12:18:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I saved to my Favorites. I'm happy to report that when I typed "skier" in the search window, your "Rock of Sages" CD appeared for sale, but when I typed "Kabbalah," I got gornisht (nothing). I didn't get any result from typing "fabrengen fiddlers" into the search window, either, so, apparently, the site ignores Brooklyn and Washington, D.C. groups equally.

Thu Jun 02, 12:28:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Noam S said...

I played a gig once with the fabrengen fiddlers. David shneyer is a very nice guy, besides being an good guitarist and singer. However, the FF are not in the league of PT, in my opinion.

Thu Jun 02, 06:33:00 PM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Kabbalah came out as a cassette in 1986 and was quickly blacklisted for some reason. I went into some of the biggest Jewish book stores in NY looking for it, and most had it (having been distributed by Menorah records), but they were keeping it behind the counter in bottom drawers.

Kinda like having my music sold in a brown paper wrapper. Needless to say, it didn't do well and didn't make it to CD. As you know, I've made my own compilation and can burn copies on request. Anyone out there who wants to sponsor a CD rerelease can contact me.

Thu Jun 02, 10:06:00 PM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

BTW, to this day I still come across people who tell me their rebbes heard them listening to it when they were in high school and made them turn it off! There's a legacy for you!

Thu Jun 02, 10:08:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

PT, what the bleep did Kabbalah do to deserve to be blacklisted??!! Did the rabbanim ((rabbis) think it was assur (forbidden) to play or listen to rock music?

dilbert, how did I miss this? I didn't know you, too, were a physician/musician. So what do you play and/or sing?

Thu Jun 02, 11:07:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Totally off-topic, but what the hey: dilbert, congratulations on starting a new blog. Check it out, folks:

Thu Jun 02, 11:12:00 PM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

We were ahead of our time, I think. Now-a-days, every frummie album has screaming distorted guitar solos (usually the same guy on each album, but...). In my day, it just wasn't done.

I think me and dilbert should form a band and call it "Paradocs".

Fri Jun 03, 09:38:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Can you see the billing now? "Paradocs, the rockin' doctors in the house." :) :) :)

Fri Jun 03, 06:45:00 PM 2005  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>