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Torah Portion: Naso
Always the Same
A New York radio host was reputed to have once observed; “I hate synagogue, it’s always the same. Kol Nidrei, Kol Nidrei, Kol Nidrei” and many people would sympathise with her.
Jews who don’t step foot in Shul from one year to the next cannot even imagine what those who attend more frequently actually do there. “You mean you just go there to pray? In Hebrew? The same words and paragraphs over and over and over? With no one forcing you? Why?”
Why do we insist on turning the same pages over and over, repeating the same words and performing the same motions? Stand up, sit down, stand up, take 3 steps back, bow, repeat. Weren’t you standing in the exact same place yesterday, or last week, or last Yom Kippur; why repeat it all over again today?
Some people are natural believers; a deep pulse of mysticism and faith throb through their veins and the prayers percolate unbidden to the surface of their consciousness. Every single time they engage with G-d they achieve an identical ecstatic connection of unbridled Divinity.
I’ve never actually met anyone like that.
Most of us, by contrast, achieve different outcomes from our devotions each time we pray. Sometimes it just flows; the words we read in our Siddur actually make sense and we can honestly feel that prayer is making a difference to our lives. Other times it’s a much harder slog to get through the davening and we find ourselves easily sidetracked or lost in a fog of distraction. Every time is its own journey and every time is different.
We might be repeating the same words, but it’s a totally new prayer.
There is a very similar interface described in tomorrow’s torah portion. The first twelve days after the Mishkan was inaugurated the Princes of the various tribes offered gifts and sacrifices to Hashem. On the face of it, the text is boring and repetitive. Each leader bought an identical offering and the same 6 verses are repeated over and over, with only the date distinguishing one man’s offering from the next. It would have been so much simpler to just tell us the details once and then inform us that the same was done every day. The torah could have saved 66 verses and we’d all get to the Kiddush earlier.
But that the point the Torah is making. Doing the same thing over and over is not necessarily repetitive. Each day was its own journey and every man brought his own perspective to the play. The days were different because the person making the sacrifice changed and every time they went through the motions they realised new possibilities and achieved a different outcome.
Every time I pray is the first time. There was a different man standing in my place yesterday. He might have looked like me, stood like me, shuckled like me and intoned the same words with the same accent, but I’m a new me now and right at this time and place I have another fresh opportunity to daven and connect with Hashem
Rabbi Yanky and Rivky Klein
This email is In Loving memory of my dear father
R’ Yerachmiel Binyamin Halevi ben R, Menachem Klein OBM