Sunday, April 29, 2007

More Davening-Chopping

Pesukei Dezimrah et seq. - what to leave in or out, and why.

Here it's much simpler for me, I have some rabbinic guidance. When my mother asked her then-rabbi Adam Mintz (formerly of Lincoln Square, now has his own breakaway minyan - how can the shul rav have a breakaway minyan? it's a long story) what could be chopped to make the Yomim Noroim services shorter at their summer C-nagogue, he said that the most important stuff was baruch she'amar, ashrei, and yishtabach, and on Shabbat or Yom Tov, Nishmat.

When I'm in a hurry, I personally leave in a few other items: Ps. 148 and 150, which most commentators agree are the most important of that sequence of psalms (145-150), Yehi Cavod as a mood-setter for Ashrei, Vayosha so I can praise God for the Exodus.

Some notes on why we say various parts:

Baruch She'amar: a meditation on the Divine Name. Each of the Baruch phrases reflects a different implication of the Divine Name; the last, Baruch Shmo, blesses the Name itself without regard to meaning. It's good to say in that vein before praising God with His Name.

Hodu - see Ta-Shma's Hatefillah He'ashkenazit Hakedumah for a fascinating article suggesting that Hodu may be the oldest continuously-recited human-authored prayer in our liturgy. David Hamelech ordered it written for the Mishkan at Shiloh; it was said in the First Temple before the morning offerings; when Zerubavel was trying to get things started in the Second Temple, he asked the priests what they thought they should say, and they said "we used to thank God" - in other words, say Hodu; it shows up in the Geniza documents as part of the nusach of the Land of Israel (it was not in the Babylonian nussach until much later, when it was absorbed from Ashkenaz along with the Kabbalistic portions), and it's still part of our davening.

OTOH, it's long and a bit confusing towards the end, so I do often skip it.

Yehi Cavod: intro to Ashrei, speaking of God's might and connectedness to us.

Ashrei: the Gemara says that one who says it (with kavvanah) three times daily is assured of the World to Come. Mumbling it doesn't help. It's a tremendous paean to God. The beginning is David's personal praise of God, then it switches over to everyone's praise, then switching at "vechasidecha yevarchucha" to those who are particularly ehrlich - they speak of the glory of His Kingdom, etc. Then at the end it switches back to David.

Ashrei through Ps. 150: there's a Gemara that speaks of the value of "completing the book of Psalms every day", which we short-circuit by just saying these last six. So after Ashrei, one ought to at least say 150 and another one to get whatever merit there is in "finishing" Psalms.

Long historical runup to Az Yashir and Az Yashir: Az Yashir is the archetypal spontaneous praise of God upon salvation, it's the basis for our saying Hallel, so we say it in the morning. But to place it in context, we have the long historical runup. As I said, I often skip this.

Yishtabach: the closing match to Baruch She'amar. It is a bracha on its own, but it does nicely delineate before the Shma brachot.

I do tend to say everything from the Shma brachot through Shmoneh Esreh, then skip around the tachanun and kedusha d'sedra stuff if I'm davening by myself. The Shma brachot are fundamental to the whole experience of Shma, submission to God, confidence in His help, etc. that are the central themes of Shma and Shmoneh Esreh.

To sum up, then, what I do as a minimal davening:
torah brachot, the short brachot, baruch sheamar, yehi cavod, ashrei, ps. 148, ps. 150, vayosha, yishtabach. Everything through Shmoneh Esreh. Aleinu. Shir shel yom.

Some extra tehillim and Nishmat on Shabbat.

That's it.

As always, YMMV.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Davening: What and Why to Chop (or not)

The problem with too much [uninformed] prayer-chopping is that a lot of the siddur was consciously designed to invoke certain emotional responses, and mental committments.

Extreme Godol Hador blogged on the The Problem with Davening, about the inability to express kavvanah while rattling off the prayers enroute to work.

I taught a shiur on the siddur one summer. We didn't get beyond the last Hallelukah, but we did cover a lot of the intentions. On the basis of that (largely based on R' Schwab's book On Prayer), as well as some tefillah columns I wrote for AishDas (based on the shiur, and other materials such as Otzar Hatefillos, "My People's Prayer Book" and even Art Green), I disagree with some of your proposed cuts, and might offer others.

First off, korbanot, as well as Rabbi Ishmael, are only there to provide a "minimal Torah study", and by rights should come right after the Birchot haTorah. The siddur has a lot of such things, as different people added what they thought ought to be "minimal torah study", so we have three sections trying to do the same thing. You should be fine with the brief bits from Torah (birchat kohanim), Mishnah (things with no measure) and Gemara (things whose reward continues in the next world).

Korbanot through Rabbi Ishmael is one addition (although you ought to say Rabbi Ishmael in a minyan to trigger Rabbunenkaddesh for the mourners; aggadita, not halacha, triggers a Rabbi’s Kaddish [according to my rav, R’ Moshe Sokol]). Pitum haketoret through H’ mevarech et amo bashalom is a third attempt to shove Torah study into davening; again, it should be said by a minyan to trigger Kaddish deRabbanan for mourners, although without mourners, I’d say it could be left out.

Second – morning brachot. I’d do the opposite of what you do: leave in the Shelo asanis (if they really bother you, there are Gemara-based positive formulations for one or two of them), since they’re based on our obligation in mitzvoth, while leaving out all the other ones. According to the Gemara (a Braisa on 60b?), they should be said as one wakes up in the morning: hanatan lasechvi binah for hearing the alarm clock, pokeiach ivrim for opening the eyes, matir assurim for disentangling from the sheets, zokeif kefufim for stretching, etc. Without the context of the actions in waking up, they become empty and meaningless.

Leolam yehei – yes, leave that in, it’s pivotal to regaining consciousness of being in the world. Although, when I’m in a hurry, I do often leave it out. It’s not strictly speaking a prayer, rather, a meditation one should make on a daily basis; by adding the introduction “One should always say upon arising”, it becomes yet another attempt to sneak in some torah study.

The balance aspect of the meditation is key – as one Mussar great has said, one should keep two pieces of paper in his pocket and check them now and again. One says “the world was created for me”, while the other says “I am dust and ashes”. This section makes us conscious of the balance – we are all nothing before God, but still God chose us and loves us. Therefore, from that balanced position, we testify to God’s existence and unity twice a day, and thus sanctify His Name.

Note that the brachot section is left out in many shuls, they begin at Rabbi Ishmael or even Baruch Sheamar (not every shul says the early kaddeishim). It’s expected that one has said them at home.

The brachot have a progression:

  • Body: asher yatzar, al netilat yadayim.
  • Soul: elokai neshama
  • Mind: Torah brachot, mitzvah brachot
  • [Interjection of what should have been done earlier: other morning brachot]
  • Relationship to people: hamachazir sheinah.
  • Relationship to God and self-balance: leolam yehei
  • [Torah study: scripture – korbanot, mishna- eizehu meqoman, gemara – Rabbi Ishmael]

I’ll discuss pesukei dezimra next.

But these simple kavanot, intentions, might help in one's davening. Kavvanah need not be highly complex kabbalistic structures - that's a late (16th-century) invention.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Had He Given Us a Paper Plate: Dayeinu!

It just came to me in the shower. Must be a post-Pesach thing. But the jingle for Zoo Pals paper plates from Hefty?


Sing it for yourself:

Ilu natan k'arat niyar
Velo he'echilanu et haman

Oink Oink Zoo-Pals
Hoot Hoot Zoo-Pals
Ribbit Ribbit Zoo-Pals
Zoo Pals make!

Must be somebody Jewish at the advertising agency, and moderately traditional. A quick Google search doesn't turn up anybody else noting this fact.