Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Nafshi ke-afar lakol ti'hye—Let my soul be like dust to all.

I know this is probably not the first time that I've linked to this. It's still one of my favorites among Mark's songs (along with another dozen or so :) ).

I don't know who wrote the prayer "Elokai, netzor l'shoni mei-rah, My G-d, guard my tongue from evil"—the first line is based on Psalm 34, verse 14—but it's a beauty. We are, indeed, privileged to have this prayer to recite immediately after the final brachah (blessing) of the Amidah ("Standing" Prayer, recited while standing), also known as Tefillah ( The Prayer).

"My G-d, guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking guile. And to all those who curse me, let my soul be silent. Let my soul be as dust to all. Open my heart to your Torah, and your mitzvot (commandments) may my soul pursue."

I've had occasion to consider these words, of late. In the process of attempting to open my heart more to the Torah and the pursuit of mitzvot, I seem to have lost track of the spirit of the earlier words: I'm sorry to say that, as my level of observance increases (slightly, at least), my level of tolerance has decreased. In a word, I fear that I'm becoming arrogant.

It's Elul, and I'm trying to improve my behavior and my attitude. I must absorb the spirit of Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who is quoted in Pirkei Avot (Verses [Ethics] of the Father) thusly: "If you have studied much Torah, do not take credit for yourself, because that is what you were created to do." The same can be said for observance of the mitzvot: That's what a Jew is supposed to do. So, if I succeed in becoming more observant, I have no business being too proud of myself.

I never was a patient person. (Ask my husband and son—they'll tell you all about it. Oy.) But I think that, if anything, I've gotten even less patient with age. Having spent so many years as a religious misfit hasn't helped. Guarding my tongue, speaking constantly with diplomacy and tact, is something that does not come naturally to me. Standing out like a sore thumb as a woman in a tallit and tefillin advocating what's clearly a lost cause (egalitarianism in my own synagogue) to a congregation in which the hard-core egalitarians are, for the most part, not regular shul-goers and the hard-core shul-goers are, for the most part, not egalitarians has just plain worn me out after over 20 years. I'm sorry to say that the stress of constantly having to censor my words and of having to explain, over and over and over, to folks who think that one can't be both an egalitarian and a Conservative Jew that the Conservative Movement has been ordaining women as rabbis for almost exactly as long as we've been members of our current synagogue has taken a toll on my tolerance level.

The contradictory behavior of our congregation hasn't helped. Several years ago, we started counting women for a minyan, not because of our collective principles, but in spite of them. Some of our most dedicated synagogue attendees are opposed to egalitarianism, but went along with the move for the sole reason that we're literally running out of men. If, perchance, the congregation, chooses to give aliyot to women, it'll be for the same reason. (There was considerable unhappiness when, in the absence of the rabbi and cantor due to illness last winter, a woman cantor [and synagogue member] leyned torah [chanted the weekly Bible portion[ and lead Musaf [the Additional Service] on a couple of Shabbatot/Sabbaths.) Many of my fellow and sister congregants are perfectly comfortable with having an Orthodox rabbi as our current spiritual leader despite the fact that the number of truly observant members—and I can't count my husband and me in that category—can probably be counted on one hand. Truly, our synagogue fits the old stereotype perfectly: As the joke goes, a Conservative synagogue is one whose rabbi is Orthodox and whose congregants are Reform.

So what's an impatient egalitarian who's long since run out of patience to do? I've found myself losing my temper in synagogue with increasing frequency over the past couple of years, and even more so in recent months, arguing constantly in shul and behaving in a disrespectful fashion toward others.

Sigh. I guess Elul is that time of year—I'm simply going to have to make a major effort to clean up my behavior and keep a civil tongue in my head. I've already apologized to the rabbi for speaking to him in a disrespectful manner. I guess that's a start.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I am newly involved in a non-egalitarian Conservative shul (really, I barely knew that such things still existed until I moved here) and it is often a challenge to maintain my patience with the membership, almost all in their '70s or older, who do not seem to realize that an egalitarian Conservative service is, in fact, the model, and that it is not liturgically different. First day of Yom Tov I got so frustrated that immediately after dropping off my tallis at home I exchanged my kippah for a hat and went walking along Ocean Parkway... and just kept walking and walking, from Church Avenue all the way to Shore Parkway and back (that's almost 9 miles altogether) to sublimate some of the frustration and to remove the (very strong) temptation to write about it on Shabbat/Yom Tov. Through the walk I was careful to keep my mouth closed and not to mutter to myself about the feelings of frustration and... really loneliness... I was experiencing. And it was a challenge.

Anyway, thank you for sharing. It is always good to know that one is not alone.

Mon Oct 09, 02:07:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Azadi, I'm happy to hear from you, too--it's nice to know that there are a few of us out there.

Tue Oct 10, 09:25:00 AM 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>