Sunday, February 28, 2010

Freilichen Shoeshine Pirim

This year for shalech mones, we gave out fruit, hamentashen and home-baked noodle kugels, with an ingredient list and disclaimer. Debbie is now a chef, so why shouldn't she make something nice?

We printed up little cards with a 17th-century painting, Esther and Ahasuerus by Bernardo Cavallino and the disclaimer for the kugel.

For Purim Torah, I handed around flyers of Gershon Rosenzweig's Midrash Esther, from his Talmud Yankee. Rosenzweig wrote a whole series of short Talmud parodies around the turn of the 20th century, many/most of which reflected the immigrant experience. E.g., Masechet America, Ch 2 Mishna 1: All are green[horns]. Whether a doctor or a tradesman, doesn't matter if you changed your name, your clothes, your language - you're still green.

Many of Rosenzweig's tractates are short, only 3-4 pages, which leads me to wonder if they were written to be handed out as Purim torahs with mishloach manot.

For more on Talmud parodies, see Parody in Jewish Literature, for extensive discussion of these and the various Purim tractates linked to by R' Brill.

And then we went to the City for the family Chanukah party. Well, for most of the last 80 years it was a Chanukah party, but for various reasons the last two years it has fallen on or near Purim.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Smiling through the tears

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

The startling truth about about the music of the Purim Megillah is that almost half of its musical notes (tropes) are exactly the same as those of "Eicha" (Lamentations) that we read on Tisha B'Av!

This is not at all illogical when you consider that the story of Purim is the only book in the Bible canon that takes place exclusively in the Diaspora. As a Diaspora memoir, it speaks of Jews who have forgotten their religion and their Torah. It begins as they run with alacrity to eat non-Kosher food at the table of the king served in the very Holy Vessels that were stolen from the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. At this point, the melody changes to "Eicha" to indicate the history of those vessels.

This is only one of the numerous diversions from the music of the text, frequently using the "Eicha" melody or a joyous march-like chant. These diversions are just a reflection of the nature of Purim itself, where to be happy we have to drink significantly and wear masks, because it is difficult for a Jew to feel truly happy and free outside of Israel. However, we can still enjoy the melody and the variations in the Megillah as we rejoice in the salvation of the Jews of Shushan.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Yisborach in Kaddish

by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

When the Chazzan recites the Kaddish, the primary goal of saying Kaddish is to "Sanctify the Name of G-d." This is accomplished by the congregation responding "Y'hei Shmei Rabbo M'vorach L'olam Ul'olmei Olmayo - May His Great Name be blessed forever and ever." This is called "Kiddush Hashem", "Sanctification of G-d's Name", and is the very reason why Kaddish is said in public by the Chazzan. The question often asked is: We know that there are some individuals who add "...Yisborach" in their response. Is this proper?

The Shulchan Aruch does suggest that "Yisborach" be added (O.C. 56:3). However, keeping in mind that the author of the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575 CE), was a Sfardi, it is understood that many of his customs quoted are those of Spain and the North African Jewish communities. Our communal Halachic guidelines stem from the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles - 1520-1572 CE) who posits the customs of European Jewry in his glosses on the Shulchan Aruch. In this case, the East European community (of which we are the descendents) follows the later opinion of the Vilna Gaon (Gr"a) NOT to add the word "Yisborach." However, for those Ashkenazim that do say it, they do have a source on which they can rely - that of Rabbi Yosef Caro.

Whatever custom you follow, be aware that your recitation of "Y"hei shmei Rabbo...", in response to the Chazzan, is one of the most important obligations of every Jew - that of sanctifying G-d's name in every aspect and in every action of our lives as a Jew.


[From ThanBook: I've been to the Karlin-Stoliner shul in Boro Park, where they actually say from "Amen yehei shmeih..." all the way to "d'amiran b'alma", leaving the chazan to repeat everything and say "v'imru amein". To which they respond "Amein." Which to my ears sounds a bit odd, in that they just said it themselves, so what's the benefit in agreeing with themselves?]

Monday, February 08, 2010

Kavvanah - short talk

The Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush honored me [again? That trick never works!] (among 8 other baalei tefillah) at the shul dinner last night, so I gave the one-minute speech at the end of this. I had wanted to give the 3-minute version below:

What is Kavvanah:


ד,טו כוונת הלב כיצד: כל תפילה שאינה בכוונה, אינה תפילה; ואם התפלל בלא כוונה, חוזר ומתפלל בכוונה. מצא דעתו משובשת וליבו טרוד--אסור לו להתפלל, עד שתתיישב דעתו. לפיכך הבא מן הדרך, והוא עייף או מצר--אסור לו להתפלל, עד שתתיישב דעתו: אמרו חכמים, שלושה ימים, עד שינוח ותתקרר דעתו, ואחר כך יתפלל.

ד,טז כיצד היא הכוונה--שיפנה ליבו מכל המחשבות, ויראה עצמו כאילו הוא עומד לפני השכינה; לפיכך צריך לישב מעט קודם התפילה, כדי לכוון את ליבו, ואחר כך יתפלל, בנחת ובתחנונים. ולא יעשה תפילתו כמי שהיה נושא משאוי, משליכו והולך לו; לפיכך צריך לישב מעט אחר התפילה, ואחר כך ייפטר. חסידים הראשונים היו שוהין שעה קודם התפילה, ושעה אחר התפילה, ומאריכין בתפילה שעה.

Intention of the heart – how is it done? Every prayer without intent is not prayer, and if he prayed without intent, he repeats it with intent.

How does one intend? That he frees his heart from all [other] thoughts, and sees himself as if he were standing before the Divine Presence.

The problem of kavvanah: Nobody has it: Ymi Ber 2:4:

Rabbi Hiyya said, "I have never concentrated during prayer! Once, when I wanted to concentrate, I instead thought about who will meet the king first: the Arkafta [a Persian high official] or the Exilarch [the head of the Jewish community in Persia]?"

Shemuel said, "I count clouds [during prayer]".

Rabbi Bun bar Hiyya said, "I count the layers of stones in the wall [while I pray]."

Rabbi Matnaya said, "I am grateful to my head, because it bows by itself when I reach 'Modim'!"

The responsibility of the Shaliach Tzibur: Sherwood Goffin:

[W]hen [my rabbinic students] daven as the shaliach tzibbur, they have a very serious responsibility: Kavannah [Rambam Hilchot Tefillah 4:15] - the intense concentration and efficacy of the prayers of the congregation, coupled with the transmission of the timehonored and halachically-mandated musical nusach ha’tefillah handed down to us from generation to generation. Each individual sitting in shul is a direct responsibility of the shaliach tzibur (sha’tz) /chazan. “The way you daven”, I tell them, “is the way the tzibur will daven. If you daven with proper kavannah, and as correctly and beautifully as you are capable, the congregation will mirror your enthusiasm and daven with equal kavannah. If, God forbid, you daven with disinterest, with mumbling, with a lack of beauty and melody and a lack of nusach ha’tefillah, you will be responsible for the repercussions to the tzibur - their disinterest, their talking during davening (except for the incorrigible few) and their lack of kavannah.”

The answer: Seth Kadish, wrote a 600-page book on the subject, and, according to his brother, repudiated all the theories of Kavvanah in it. Kavvanah means, for him, that you concentrate on the meaning of what you’re saying, the words and the sentences and the paragraphs.. R’ Baruch Witkin is quoted online saying, "It doesn't matter so much whether you daven fast or slow, as long as it's not the same every single day."

The shaliach tzibur helps you see things differently than you might. The shatz also has to be sure to put himself into it, differently each time. Because you all pick up on that, and we live to serve. That’s why I’m glad to be a part of this company of shlichei tzibur, part of our shul’s deep pool of talent.

As given:

Kavvanah is prayer with intent. We all strive for it, we have trouble achieving it. The Sages of the Talmud had trouble achieving it, as it says in the Yerushalmi, this one counted the tiles on the ceiling, that one thought about the stock market (loosely). The job of a shaliach tzibur, in addition to repeating the prayers for those who don’t know them, is to musically interpret the words of the prayers, to inspire the tzibur to think about their prayers, to work with the tzibur such that he and they pray with kavvanah. It’s a cooperative effort. Intent grows through familiarity with the traditional modes of prayer, and through being wakened from repetitiveness, with Carlebach and contemporary tunes.

I am grateful that you have chosen to honor the shlichei tzibur of this synagogue. I feel humbled to be included among our deep pool of cantorial talent, men who know the ancient nusach hatefillah, as well as current tunes and modes of prayer. I thank my parents, who raised me with everpresent music, in the traditions of my father’s family, the Philharmonic Fishbergs, and even my father became an amateur cantor in his 60s. I thank my wife, who has always encouraged me to grow. And I thank you.

I was tempted to say, but good sense prevailed:

ככה יעשה לאיש אשר הציבור חפץ ביקרו

in the spirit of the forthcoming holiday.