These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Transitional Silences

Posted on November 17, 2010 by Shibley

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Transitional moments within davening are generally opportunities to keep the t’fillot at hand moving along without delays that would cause a lapse in concentration or disrupt the atmosphere of holiness. As an aside, halacha takes into consideration this fact, and prohibits the burdening of the congregation.

I learned last year at Yeshivat Hadar, that sometimes singing or prayer is enhanced by the inherent contrast between voices and the silence that exists before and after. I agree wholeheartedly with the concept when discussing the moments following the conclusion of a niggun (wordless melody), but I’ve been wrestling recently as to how this might apply to t’fillah.

Among the moments within davening where there are “transitional silences,” none is more powerful for me than that heading into and out of the silent amidah. Regardless of which service of the day, the shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) has a vocal role before the amidah begins, whether in the form of a bracha or half-kaddish. Once the shaliach tzibbur concludes however, there is hopefully a silence that pervades as all present begin the personal amidah. The transition allows individuals the opportunity to gather his or her thoughts before commencing the t’fillah. It is undoubtedly tempting to rush into the amidah, a temptation to which I have succumbed on numerous occasions. In the last week, I have found my personal amidah to be far more meaningful and moving when I take those few seconds, absorb the quiet, gather my thoughts, and only then begin the amidah.

On the other hand, there is a certain shattering of the silence when the shaliach tzibbur begins the repetition of the amidah. Though this week of experimenting, I have come to think of the whispered words “Hashem sfatai tiftach u’fi yagid t’hilatecha” (God open my lips that they should declare Your praise), as a warning to the kahal that the silence is about to end and the repetition will shortly begin. Yes, the aforementioned quote from Psalms it’s own meaning, paralleling the “y’hi ratzon milfanecha…”(So may it be Your will…) at the conclusion of the amidah. For the purposes of this t’fillah element, I am relying on my own understanding.

I would be curious to hear/read about others’ thoughts an/or attempts at the method that I have suggested.