web analytics
August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



REFOCUSING THE PRAYER EXPERIENCE

God, Are You Threatening Me?

God Threatening Me

Photo Credit: Yori Yanover

Standing in synagogue this past Rosh Hashanah, an irreverent thought sprang, unbidden, into mind when the cantor arrived at the famous (or, rather, infamous) prayer of Unesaneh Tokef, which lists deaths that could eventuate in the upcoming year – “who by fire, who by sword, who my beast…” God, are you threatening me? thought I, at the moment when just such a thought could be most damning.

The hilarity of the moment, set against the determined somberness of the scene, brought on a burst of laughter, which I desperately struggled to smother. My blasphemy need not thwart the careful concentration of the other swaying, teary-eyed and appropriately quaking attendees. An awkward snort prevailed, which I easily passed off as a nose-blow, hiding my face in a tissue to authenticate my piety.

But the thought, and the frustrated emotions brought with it, did not leave me after exiting the prayer service that day. The ominous nature characterizing a good portion of the High Holiday liturgy can be difficult to understand. And I suspect I’m not alone in these struggles.

The writers of our holiday liturgy (in the case of Unesaneh Tokef, Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany, 11th century, tortured for refusing a Christian conversion according to popular tradition) were no fools. On the holiest days of the year, they sought to compose lines that would stir religious fervor and zeal in the hearts of repenters, proving successful for centuries. If, today, we find ourselves struggling to relate to these prayers, it stands to reason that the change has taken place within us.

But what changed? While fear used to motivate, even inspire, mine is a generation that views threats as challenges and raises a skeptical brow at austere ultimatums. Reverence often seems a throwback to old times, and absolute authority, whether in classroom or in the synagogue, is a concept increasingly more difficult to swallow.

As a counselor at an Orthodox Jewish sleep-away camp this past summer, I witnessed this phenomenon first hand. I worked with forty teenage girls, ages 15 and 16, and quickly discovered the most dependable way to get nothing done: threats.

A quick anecdote to illustrate the point: when color-war rolled around, to the dismay of some and adulation of others, it fell on my shoulders to inspire the creativity, enthusiasm (measured exclusively by volume in the dining room), and leadership potential in my campers. Those campers of mine, chafing at the bit for authority, trotted off, whistles hung importantly around necks, to cut, paste, glue, sing, swim and dance the day away. Naturally, the campers who remained lounging in the back of the bunkhouse were not the ones easily inspired by the day’s competitive, pink and green flurry.

My first tactic to get those recalcitrant few out of the bunkhouse and onto the field: the nonchalant, well-it’s-your-loss shrug. No movement. Second tactic: bribes. No response (apparently stale cookies held little clout). Frustrated, I resorted to the last and final course of action: if you don’t leave the bunkhouse right now, I’m going to have to… call your mother, dock your cell phone privileges, send you home. The end of my sentence would not have made a difference, the response to the first half was so complete. In a moment I became the challenger, and the enemy. While before my campers had been laxly apathetic, they now sat up, alert, suspicious and determined to move nowhere.

Who by sword, who by fire; the stakes are definitely higher than leaving camp a week early. But the response I witnessed in my campers, and in myself, is not the quiet for which I had hoped. Was this true a generation ago? I cannot say. Nor will I hypothesize about why my generation has such a hard time fearing authority.

What I can propose is a refocus on the positive, making the long High Holiday services a more pleasant, less conflicted, prayer experience. There are many prayers within the extensive liturgy that focus on Divine love and compassion, from the repeated recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, to the beautiful description of the Jewish people as God’s handiwork (pe’ulatecha), beloved (dodeinu), treasure (segulatecha) and more. Selecting to focus on positive imagery and the message of forgiveness and progress can quell our conflicted feelings at the prayers that seem to daunt and portend.

I am not suggesting selective prayer, nor am I endorsing an escape from the uncomfortable, just because it’s uncomfortable. Rather, this is a nod to the reality of our emotions. Today, fear tends to alienate, rather than precipitate change. A message of love, forgiveness, and compassion inspires. Both themes can be found within the liturgy –we select our focus. The decision of where to invest concentration, limited, even for the best of us, will determine if some of us leave our seats disheartened, or with the auspicious taste of a sweet New Year.

Hannah Dreyfus is a junior at Stern College for Women, double majoring in journalism and Judaic studies. She is managing editor of The Observer, official newspaper of Stern College, and hopes to pursue a career in journalism.

About the Author: Hannah Dreyfus is a junior at Stern College for Women majoring in journalism. She currently works as managing editor of the YU Observer and an editorial intern for The Jewish Week. Her work has appeared on Aish.com, The Times of Israel website, and in The Jewish Press. She hopes to pursue a joint degree in journalism and law.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “God, Are You Threatening Me?”

  1. Shira Leff says:

    I never viewed Nesaneh Tokef as a threat. I think of it more as a catalyst for stripping through our facade of self-sufficiency to allow us to realize that really G-d is in control. With that framework, we can more easily feel the awe and the significance of the Yamim Noraim in general, and of the impending judgement in particular. Through our realization of our dependence upon G-d (He does, after all, ultimately decree 'who will live and who will die'), we come to a state of deep love for Him.

  2. Anonymous says:

    So I disagree. Its not that we don't respond to fear – you are just not scary enough. They don't believe that you will follow through. They know their parents will back them up and if you send them home a week early it is you who will not be there next summer. Ahava (love) is great – but bypassing Yirah (fear) leads to a distorted view of Ahava.

    In the movie "A bronx tale" the following dialogue takes place…the kid asks the gangster "Is it better to be loved or feared?" to which the gangster (played by the great Chazz Palminteri): "It's a good question. It's nice to be both, but it's difficult. If I had my choice, I would rather be feared. Fear lasts longer than love."

    While obviously love of Hashem is the ultimate goal – without the respect that comes from fear, however, – you are just deluding yourself.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad speaks at the State Control Committee at the Knesset, March 13, 2012..
Former NSA Blasts Netanyahu
Latest Sections Stories
Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot together in concert.

Almost immediately the audience began singing and clapping and continued almost without stop throughout the rest of the concert.

Mordechai-082214-Armoire

As of late, vintage has definitely been in vogue in the Orthodox community.

Einhorn-082214-Water

Stroll through formal gardens, ride mountain bikes, or go rock climbing.

As they fall upon us we go
To the WALL.

One minute you’re shaving shwarma off a pit, then the shwarma guy tells you he read a (fake) WhatsApp that the boys are dead.

I probe a little deeper and Shula takes me into the world of phantom pains and prosthetic limbs.

This went on until she had immersed eighty times, and then Hashem at last took pity upon her.

Because Menachem lives in Israel, he can feel the ruach in the air.

Perhaps you can reach a compromise during this news frenzy, whereby you will feel more comfortable while he can still follow the latest events.

Leon experienced the War of Independence from a soldier’s perspective, while remaining true to his Jewish ideals and beliefs.

Chabad of Arizona centers recently hosted an evening of remembrance to mark the 20th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

More Articles from Hannah Dreyfus
Dreyfus-022213

I have two homes.

My first home is Connecticut, a place of rustling oaks and sprawling backyards. My second home is Israel.

My relationship with social media is and remains an ambivalent one. Unlike many of my peers, I did not initially embrace social media, from its beginning stages with AOL instant messenger and proceeding quickly on to MySpace and Facebook.

While fear used to motivate, even inspire, mine is a generation that views threats as challenges and raises a skeptical brow at austere ultimatums. Reverence often seems a throwback to old times, and absolute authority, whether in classroom or in the synagogue, is a concept increasingly more difficult to swallow. As a counselor at an Orthodox Jewish sleep-away camp this past summer, I witnessed this phenomenon first hand. I worked with forty teenage girls, ages 15 and 16, and quickly discovered the most dependable way to get nothing done: threats.

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/god-are-you-threatening-me-refocusing-the-prayer-experience/2012/09/30/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: