Friday, June 29, 2012

An Interesting Experiment

In a previous drash on Chukkat, I noted the three rituals performed in the parsha:  1) the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, 2) purification of those who have touched the dead, and, after Miriam’s death, 3) the banging on the rock to produce water.  The first two rituals are prefaced by the phrase, “This is the ritual” (or “This is the Sacred Commandment”) but the third is not.  Moses does not perform the third task as a ritual, and pays the price.  In this drash/kavannah, I address the importance and meaning of ritual through three other rituals:

This is the Ritual:
Bowing during the morning blessings.

I used to refuse to bend my knee
and bow
during the Morning Blessings.
Baruch Atah Etcetera
Thank you for Etecetera….
Who was I bowing to?
A male king?
That’s not God.
Screw that.

But then I thought
What if I bowed anyway?
What would that feel like?
So I tried it for a month.
As an interesting experiment
I bowed deeply for a month.

And
It was  mechanical, pointless.
And then one day, kind of without warning
Each time I bowed, I found there was a reason.
I bowed to history and tradition,
I bowed because my ancestors bowed.   
I bowed to everyone who has ever been forced to bow,
I bowed because everyone else in the room was bowing.
I bowed to my fear of the future,
I bowed to my regrets of the past.
I bowed because I am not the center of the universe.
I bowed because I do feel God's presence, somehow.


This is the Ritual:
Wearing a tallit.

I never wore  a tallis
During the Shabbat morning service
When I was little
It’s cause I was a girl
Girls didn’t do that
I sat next to my Daddy in services and played with his tallis fringes
But they were his, not mine,
Never to be mine.
And anyway, why should I?
Do I really think God cares whether I wear fringes?
Do I even believe in the kind of God who would care if I wore a frigging shawl?
I don’t believe in religious rules!
I can wear whatever I want!
How dare you tell me how to be a Jew!!
And anyway, navy blue stripes,
So boring.
Everybody knows
I’m all about the fashion accessories,
So screw that

But then I thought,
What if I wore a tallis anyway?
What would it feel like?
So I wore it for a month,
As an interesting experiment.
And
It was dramatic and self-aggrandizing, look at me.
And then one day, kind of without warning,
Each time I put on my tallit I found there was a reason.

I put on the tallit because it was winter and it kept me warm.
I put in the tallit to wrap myself in the memory of my father, sometimes I even wore his.
I put on the tallit because I can and you can’t stop me.
I put on the tallit because it covered the vanity of whatever I was wearing that day.
I put on the tallit because I found one that matched my outfit.
I put on the tallit because it draped me in Torah.
I put on the tallit because God apparently has a thing for fringes and who am I to argue?
I put on the tallit because women who wear tallit at the Kollel, the Wailing Wall, get arrested by the state of Israel.


This is the Ritual:
Wearing a kippah.

I sometimes wore a yarmulke when I was young
The flimsy lacy kind.
Stuck on with a bobby pin,
A trivial thing,
A girly affectation,
Stupid.
A real kippah was for boys,
It fit their short hair.
But it flattened my lovely curls
So screw that.

But then I thought
What if I wore a kippah anyway?
What would it feel like?
So I wore a kippah on my head for a month,
As an interesting experiment.

Immediately, each time I put on my kippah,
I found there was a reason.
And it was amazing!
I put on my kippah to make a feminist statement.
I put on my kippah because it shows respect for the synagogue and the prayer leaders.
I put on my kippah to announce to myself that I have entered the shul and I must be mindful.
I put on kippah because I can have a lot of different ones to match my moods and my earrings.
I put on my kippah because everything underneath becomes a capsule of kadosh, of holiness.
I put on my kippah because it reminds me to connect to God, however I understand God that day.

These are the rituals:

So now on Shabbat morning,
When I thank a being I don’t believe in at least in the old way
Except when I do,
When I need something bigger than myself, 
I bow.

So now, on Shabbat morning
When I go to services
And I need to separate myself from the mundane
But not my community,
I wrap myself In my tallit.

So now, on Shabbat morning
When I begin another vertical conversation with the non-linear
And I need to place myself in kesher, connection,
I put on my hat of holy, my kippah.

These interesting experiments,
These rituals,
They are not empty.
Red Heifer or Water From a Rock,
Friday night chicken or lighting candles,
They mean something.
Not always the same thing
Not always with the same impact
Not aways to everyone in the room
But every time.

So pardon the presumption, but
I have a suggestion for you:
Try your own interesting experiment.
Pick a ritual:
One that is done in your community,
One that you don’t usually do,
One that you almost never do, 

Just one.
Then do it.
 Do it without a reason. Do it for a month or two.
 
See if it takes on meaning for you,
 
See if it creates sacred space.
 
See if it creates sacred time.
 Learn about this ritual.

Do you know its traditional reason?
Do you know it's communal value?
Do you find a personal resonance?
Can you create your own meaning?
Keep doing the ritual for a month or two.
Then stop.

Do you miss it?

Did it matter? 
Do you want to do it again?

Brucha At Achat, Baruch Atah Echad, Bless the One-ness, giving us the ability to encircle time and space with meaning.  


Amen.


3 comments:

  1. Beautifully and uniquely said.

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  2. I appreciate your verses, reminiscing in my mind the similar thoughts of girliness, fringes and bobby pins. How special to hear your thoughts and relate to the times we grew up with our daddies. Boys received special honors and girls their own, but today we all feel our God in our own way and in a communal spirit.

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  3. Delightful expression of meaningful ways to be in relationship with ritual. Thank you!

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