These and Those

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

[Alumni Guest Post] Fire over T’Fillah

Posted on December 14, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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Daniel Shibley (Year '11, Fellows '12) started a new blog!
Here's one of his posts, from Dec. 11:

Although we are now a few weeks removed from the tense days of war that came to define the month of November, the exact moment of the first siren has remained with me, a quasi-trauma, a frozen second that I imagine will probably never depart my psyche. In a previous blog, I wrote regularly about t’fillah, aspects thereof, and I would be remiss to leave this particular experience undocumented.

Kabbalat Shabbat, a compilation of Psalms designated by the Kabbalists of the 16th Century, which is recited, often sung, every Friday night in most communities has become one of the most significant aspects of my week. When done “correctly,” the combination of singing, energy, and outpouring of emotion, can reach some near euphoric state. Somewhere between the vibrations of voices mingled and the sheer passion, there exists a supreme peace, an acknowledgement that the six working days have concluded and the transcendence of time and space, Shabbat, has begun. That is,until with a shrill and defined wail, the sound of an air raid siren shatters the peace.

It takes a few seconds for synapses to fire, it takes a few seconds to realize, it takes a few seconds to be able to uproot ones feet when davening is quieted at yeshiva and the announcement is made about incoming missiles necessitating an immediate scramble to a sheltered area. That Shabbat I was hosting a dear friend, as the entire yeshiva began to move as one towards the shelters, our eyes locked, nothing was said, everything was said.  After the all-clear was given, and the rockets had impacted nearby, we emerged from the shelter looked skyward, usually the direction of our t’fillah and the source of desperately needed rain, to see the smoke trails of rockets, smoke trails caused by people who wished harm upon us.

Davening resumed from exactly the point where it had been interrupted, with the line final line of Psalm 29, “The Lord will give strength unto His People, the Lord will bless His people with Peace” (JPS). No doubt a poetic conclusion, as well as the yearning of all in attendance. We resumed with a new vigor, with the intensity only created in the wake of a traumatic instant, speaking only for myself, and probably for others, tears streamed down my cheeks, hot tears of anger, tears of pain, and tears of relief. We again reached a crescendo in the final line of the piyut Ana Bekoach.

Ana Bekoach, as seven line piyut (liturgical poem), was composed by Rav Nehunia Ben Hakannah. The piyut contains a coded link to the first 42 letters of the Torah, the creation story, with the hopes of connecting the reader to the unlimited Divine energy that fashioned the world itself. Each line is said to correspond to a day of the week, and so it is only appropriate that as we began the seventh day, that verse rang most true. “Receive our pleas,  hear our cries, He who knows the mysteries.” As soon as the last words left my lips, I realized, that I had indeed plead, and that I had indeed cried out to the Knower of mysteries.

What had for several years been the section of Kabbalat Shabbat that unfurled the red carpet for L’cha Dodi, the central poem of Kabbalat Shabbat, was now laden with meaning. As those tears on my face began to evaporate and L’cha Dodi began, I realized that rationale for having missiles fired over our t’fillah may never be known to me, that even as I cried out, there exists some things that will forever be beyond my comprehension, and on that Shabbat evening it was the will of men wishing our harm and destruction.