Each day in my morning prayers, I recite the blessing, “Blessed are You…Who made me as He wished.” The male version of the blessing is the infamous, “…Who didn’t make me a woman.” To be honest, it never bothered me. I have no testosterone envy. I am actually relieved that I can say my prayers in the house, any time before midday, rather than dragging my sorry body to the synagogue at 7:00 (ouch) am.
But lately I got to thinking. (Uh-oh.) A month before Rosh HaShanah, we add a chapter of Psalms (chapter 27) to the morning service. “A Psalm by David: Gd is my light and my rescuer.” It has references to the High Holy Days and to the general tenor of the time. I get a good feeling when I recite it because it’s a prelude to that special holiday period – even though I know that soon I will be laboring to separate cabbage leaves and roll them around chopped meat. It’s like shopping for balloons and party hats a month before your actual birthday. Sort of.
But because I don’t go to synagogue in the morning, I recently woke up to the idea that I am missing a key element of that holiday preparation – the sounding of the shofar right before Psalm 27. It strikes me as so odd that when I walk into synagogue on Rosh HaShanah, there is a frisson of excitement among the women and children because they will be hearing the shofar for the first time in a year. But I just realized that the men have been hearing it every morning for a month! Is it less special to them? Was it a little bit thrilling the first time they experienced it thirty days previously?
I have heard it said that because women are naturally more spiritual, they need fewer rituals to nudge them along their religious journey. Perhaps that fits in with this idea that the men are hearing the call of the shofar a full month before women. It suggests that they need added inspiration to repent and reflect. Dunno. But I am a tad envious. Not envious enough to get up at 6:30 am and join them, just a drop jealous.
At a recent Day of Learning, I had another such epiphany. I attended the morning service before the classes started, and Tachanun, a collection of petitionary prayers recited just before the service ends, was included. Since I don’t go to weekday services, I had never heard it before. For Sefardim and Israelis, Tachanun starts with, “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu….” Holy Moses! That’s the core prayer of the Yom Kippur service. There I am, on Yom Kippur, tearing up as though I were peeling onions, while I say this once-a-year confession – the one we say on our deathbed, if we have the time and presence of mind at that point. How dramatic can it get??? Yet men are saying this paragraph most days of the year. Again, it makes me wonder whether that dilutes for them the power of this critical incantation.
Tachanun also includes what I find to be some excruciatingly beautiful verses. Consider Psalm 6 (my translation): “Gd, don’t chastise me in Your anger, and don’t punish me in Your fury. Be gracious, because I am distraught. Heal me because my bones are confounded….[after all], you can’t be memorialized by the dead, and who can praise you from the grave?” (Maybe it sounds better in Hebrew.)
Tachanun concludes with, “Guardian of Israel, guard the remnant of Israel, and don’t allow to perish the Israelites who recite, “Hear O Israel.” “And we, we don’t know what to do; our eyes look to You….”
Them’s some mighty powerful sentiments. I hope that when the guys are rushing to get to work, they get an occasional opportunity to look mindfully at the words they are lucky enough to be mandated to recite. I’m glad I happened upon them – and I’m glad He made me as He wished.